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A leader in his field

By Chen Nan
China Daily
Updated: 2023-09-14


Band members of Wayina, Shi Ba, performs on the popular reality show, The Big Band, which has helped the group reach a larger audience.CHINA DAILY

Folk musician Ba Nong and his bandmates find a wider audience, as songs inspired by his rural hometown prove to be a hit on popular reality show, Chen Nan reports.

Ba Nong, a member of the Zhuang ethnic group, was born and raised in a small village in the county of Nandan, Hechi city, South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region — about three- and-a-half hours' drive from Nanning, capital city of the region, and over 2,000 kilometers away from Beijing.

Born to a farming family, Ba Nong grew up close to nature and got to know the land well. His other passion was music, and, at the age of 20, he got his first guitar and started to perform songs he had written.

However, the now 44-year-old musician didn't expect that his music, with its deep, rural roots, would attract so many fans after making his debut on the reality show, The Big Band — now in its third season and produced and broadcast by iQiyi — alongside his two bandmates, 38-year-old Shi Ba and 33-year-old Lu Min.


Band members of Wayina, Ba Nong, performs on the popular reality show, The Big Band, which has helped the group reach a larger audience.CHINA DAILY

Their band is called Wayina in Mandarin, or Varihnaz in the language of the Zhuang ethnic group, which means "the farmland with rice aroma".

The first song they performed on the reality show was Tian Ge, or Song of the Land, which was written by Ba Nong in 2008. All three can sing, and they play different musical instruments, even some that are not common. For example, Lu Min turned a hoe into a percussion instrument, striking it with a piece of iron, while Ba Nong wowed the audience when he made music by blowing on leaves.

"The stars shine at night and cast a bright light on the rice land.… Thanks to you, my land, bless me with aroma of rice grains. …My land, you cannot rest because of me," the song goes.

"Their performance conjures up lots of imagery, such as the beautiful farmland and nature. I could imagine the three members of the band sowing seeds, harvesting, drinking and singing, which is so beautiful," said pop diva Na Ying, one of the six celebrity judges on the reality show.

"We planned to sing one song on the show and leave. We didn't expect that we could win the opportunity to stay for the second round and sing a second song," says Ba Nong.

The second song they performed on the show was a popular Chinese song, Long Time No See, first performed by Hong Kong star Eason Chan. Veteran music producer and songwriter Zhang Yadong was impressed by the band's adaptation, describing it as "surprising, sincere and powerful".

"It's our first time performing on a reality show. For us, it's not a competition, but a place for us to create and grow with freedom," Ba Nong adds.


Band members of Wayina, Lu Min, perform on the popular reality show, The Big Band, which has helped the group reach a larger audience.CHINA DAILY

Ba Nong, Shi Ba and Lu Min made their stage debut together as a band last year in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where they performed Song of the Land for the first time. They felt great about that performance and decided to perform as Wayina, which Ba Nong first founded in 2006 in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

Shi Ba and Lu Min also come from Guangxi. Shi Ba used to make a living as a busker, while Lu Min worked on a construction site. They also write their own original material.

"We do rehearsals when we have performances, or when Ba Nong needs our help in the field," said Shi Ba on the reality show. "We love to discover creative ideas, whether it's in regard to farming or music. Both are a way of life for us."

Song of the Land was featured on the second album of the band, which was titled River Without a Name and written from 2008 to 2009. While the second album recorded Ba Nong's emotions after returning to his hometown, the first album, titled Drifting Cloud in the Sky, which was written from 2005 to 2006, was about his life after leaving home to work and live in Guangzhou.

Ba Nong wrote Song of the Land when he returned to his hometown to help his parents on the farm. At that time, he worked as a graphic designer at a company in Guangzhou, and the song, he says, portrays how he viewed his hometown after he had seen the "big world outside".

"I lived in Guangzhou for some years, where I had a busy lifestyle. It was very different from the one I had in my hometown. When I returned home, I had a different feeling about the place where I was born and raised, and about the land, which offered me food and everything I had as a child," says Ba Nong, who studied art for a year after high school and hoped to study it at university. Unfortunately that dream didn't come to fruition.


The band rehearses in Ba Nong's home studio.CHINA DAILY

"When I was a child, we had winter fallow period, which allowed the farmland to rest. Though we had no income during that period of time, people would spend the day singing, dancing and enjoying themselves," says Ba Nong. "However, now farmers seem to be like people living in urban areas. They work hard and keep their land busy throughout the whole year."

One day, after harvesting vegetables with his parents, Ba Nong went to bed. The next morning, he was surprised to see that his parents had already sold the vegetables and planted new seeds.

"Soon, the lyrics hit me: 'my land, you cannot rest because of me'," recalls Ba Nong, who later developed it into the song, Song of the Land.

He mentions that he listened to lots of songs by musicians which portray their hometowns, inspiring him to think about his own.


The members of Wayina in their hometown in Hechi city, South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.CHINA DAILY

"They sing about their homes, nature and the land, which reminded me of my home. We seem to ignore how beautiful our home is and pursue a life in bigger cities," Ba Nong says.

In 2012, he decided to quit his job in Guangzhou and return home. He built his own house and bought recording equipment. He recorded his music trilogy and released it in 2015, featuring three albums, including Drifting Cloud in the Sky and River Without a Name.

Now, with their songs reaching a wider audience, the band has received more opportunities. However, they are in no hurry to pursue fame or money.

"We are much busier than ever due to the reality show. We travel a lot. But we will return to our home once our job on the show is done. Our music is born in the field, therefore we will never leave it for long," says Ba Nong.


Guitarist Shi Ba and lead singer Ba Nong play music together at the latter's home in Hechi. CHINA DAILY

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