Uighur singer Perhat Khaliq updates folk songs with rock

A runner-up in the The Voice Of China 2014 singing competition, Perhat Khaliq (left) and his band will play at The O.P.E.N.
A runner-up in the The Voice Of China 2014 singing competition, Perhat Khaliq (above) and his band will play at The O.P.E.N. PHOTO: MUKADDAS MIJIT

Singer Perhat Khaliq has been lauded for giving a bold spin to Uighur tunes

With his eyes closed in concentration and his throaty voice holding long, wavering notes easily, Uighur singer Perhat Khaliq shocked cheers out of the judges and audience on The Voice Of China two years ago.

His soulful blend of music - Uighur folk songs given the rock treatment - catapulted him into the spotlight and took him to the finals of the singing competition.

Perhat, who had for years been singing in restaurants and bars in his hometown of Urumqi, was the runner-up eventually and his career has taken flight since then.

He and his band Qetiq have performed in cities around China and toured Europe as part of the Morgenland Festival, a German music festival.

Later this year, they will perform in Singapore at The O.P.E.N., the pre-festival programme of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

  • BOOK IT / THE O.P.E.N.

  • WHERE: Various locations

    WHEN: June 22 to July 9

    ADMISSION: $45 for an O.P.E.N. pass for all programmes; $25 concession pass for students, full-time national servicemen and seniors aged 55 and older; early birds get 20 per cent off the O.P.E.N. pass till May 8

    INFO: Due to limited space, registration for talks, salons, concerts, films and performances at The O.P.E.N. is required at Registration opens on Saturday

The O.P.E.N, now in its third edition, runs from June 22 to July 9.

"This is my first time in Singapore and I'm excited. I'll just try to be the best that I can be. Give the best of my self," says Perhat, 34, over e-mail.

"I'll perform Mandarin and Uighur numbers. I want people to love the music from my homeland. And hopefully they enjoy it, they dance to it."

He took to the stage for The Voice Of China with a song titled How Can You Let Me Be So Sad, which his late brother Sadik introduced to him, and it thrummed with loss and longing over the memory of his brother and parents.

His brother died of a lung disease when Perhat was 20 and, years later, illnesses took his mother and father as well.

The self-taught musician was six years old when he found his brother's three-string guitar under the bed and started picking away at it. "I started to play in my way and it became an important part of my life."

He experimented over the years with different styles, including a short-lived foray into death metal, but rock remained his enduring passion.

Some of his biggest inspirations are English rock band Pink Floyd and American musician Bob Dylan, but his current role model, he quips, is Chinese singer Wang Feng - his coach on The Voice Of China.

"The wave of interest has certainly changed a lot of things in my life, but I'm not surprised because The Voice Of China had a huge following.

"But I didn't really try to do something to catch people's attention," says Perhat of his experience on the singing show. "I just challenged myself. I'm just glad things worked out for the better."

Perhat, whose wife Pazilet Tursun sings in his band, has been lauded for his bold spin on the traditional music of his people.

But, to him, Uighur music and rock music are an easy complement. "They can come together. When I was young, there were already some other musicians in Xinjiang who had tried rock and traditional music. I wanted to express myself in this way," he says.

But for some Uighurs, who have long been protective of their traditions for fear that these may be subsumed by the Han Chinese, he seems to take too many liberties with the traditional folk songs of their people.

Perhat is unfazed, however.

"When I perform, I perform for the music and wanting people to enjoy and love it. Music is very much within me. It is something I can do to express myself. (It is) my voice."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Rocking to folk songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe