My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
Making it their mission to fill the void when it comes to children’s music in China, Liu Jian and his wife, American journalist Rebecca Kanthor, founded Hand in Hand International Children’s Music Festival: a family-friendly event for all ages to come together in cities throughout China to experience live music from around the world.
Raised in rural Henan province, Liu joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and served in Guangxi province before being accepted into the prestigious PLA Arts Academy in Beijing. He later dropped out, and relocated to Shanghai in 2001 to pursue a career in writing and music. Initially earning a living busking on the streets, he began organizing singer-songwriter showcases around town. Today, as the author of three novels and producer of his own folk-rock album, his creative aspirations continue to soar.
Can you tell us what Hand in Hand music festivals are about and what motivated you to create this concept?
Hand in Hand is China’s first international music festival created for the whole family. I developed this concept because I wanted to do something to help change the lives of the children in China. After our daughter was born, I remember wanting to share children’s songs with her and after searching, I could only find the same Chinese songs I heard when I was a child.
Thinking that there needs to be new music for children in China, I was curious to hear what the music from other countries was like, and I found so many talented bands making really great music for children. That’s how I came up with the idea to bring to China the most innovative and fun bands for children from around the world. We want to give families a chance to enjoy the best children’s music and inspire Chinese musicians to start making better music for kids.
Who are your inspirations; either musically or otherwise?
I was 16 when I first heard rock music, and it changed my life (Tang Dynasty, Cui Jian and Nirvana to name a few). Hearing their music inspired me to follow my own dreams and showed me that I could choose the life I wanted.
What are some of the most exciting results you have seen from your events?
For our first tour in June 2017, we brought two award-winning bands from Holland and the US and toured five cities, including Shanghai. We really didn’t know what to expect. We weren’t sure our Chinese audiences would feel comfortable getting up and dancing during the performances. We even warned the bands ahead of time to be prepared. At our first show, within five minutes of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band’s performance, all the parents and kids jumped up and were dancing together. Seeing families ‘rocking out’ to the music at our festivals has been so fulfilling, at times we’ve seen three generations of a family all enjoying the music together. That feels really good.
How does your family contribute to the success of Hand in Hand?
Hand in Hand is a family effort. My wife Rebecca helps to find the bands and our kids (ages 2 and 5) also take part, giving us feedback on the bands we choose. All of us sang and danced in the music video we made for our theme song. Our parents and siblings have also been extremely supportive, lending us the funds we needed to put on our first music festival. It takes so much effort to put on the festival, but it’s fulfilling to work on this together and achieve such positive results.
How do you choose the artists for your concerts? What do you aim to teach your young audience?
We’re very particular about the bands we invite to Hand in Hand. We only select the most innovative and talented groups, that people of all ages can enjoy. We pay close attention to the content of their songs and only select bands who write songs with values that really speak to both parents and children. They all put on an energetic and engaging live show – this is crucial for creating the fun atmosphere we desire at our festivals. What we want our audiences to take away is “just follow your own path.” I hope our young audience can realize that much earlier than I did. And, we hope the parents who come to our shows feel they are still young, even though they have a family now.
How can our Urban Family community keep up to date with your upcoming events?
We put on three family-friendly festivals a year, and we aim to bring the best bands from 10 countries to 100 cities in China over the next five years. Our upcoming festival series will run in May and June and we will be touring 10 cities, including Shanghai (Apr 29 - May 1). You can find all the information you need via our website, WeChat account or book tickets here.
Book tickets here.
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