Ghanaian rapper builds bridge between China and Africa via promoting Chinese-style songs

Editor's Note:

China's modernization has been an epic journey over past decades. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has become an attractive destination for many foreigners. Many such expats in the country have fulfilled their career aspirations, while some have found love and started families in China.

Why do they choose to live in China? How do expats in China view and interpret China's achievements and persistence as measured from various perspectives? The Global Times interviewed multiple international residents in China from all walks of life, some of whom have made tangible contributions to China's development, to learn about their understanding of the essence of Chinese culture, and gain an insight into how far China has advanced in its pursuit of development and rejuvenation over the last decade.
If it were not for appearance, you would easily forget that you are talking to a foreigner.

The fluent Putonghua and the sophisticated understanding of Chinese culture and Chinese society make it more convincing when Forster Asare-Yeboah, a Ghanaian musician, said that he takes it as his career to help build a bridge of communication between China and the world via promoting Chinese-style music.

Dubbed one of the most famous foreigner on Chinese social media platforms, Asare-Yeboah has attracted millions of followers in China - more than 6.6 million as of March 11 on Douyin since 2017, for funny videos showing his daily life in Chengdu and videos of him singing songs infused with Chinese cultural elements.

He impressed Chinese audiences in 2019 when participating in The Rap of China, the first youth rap music reality show in China, with a chant combining English, Chinese, and the Sichuan dialect during the audition. He cooperated with a Chinese rapper later in the competition called Black&Yellow which is themed on the China-Africa friendship.

Before that, he had performed one of his most famous songs Welcome to Chengdu on several Chinese TV shows. A translation of the lyrics reads: "I have seen very many cities and landscapes, from New York to Brazil, [but] I only fell in love with Chengdu."

He, in fact, has never expected to settle down in China when he came to the country for the first time in 2008.

While studying at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, a cultural hub in the country's Southwest Sichuan Province, he gradually fell in love with local culture - which, while being slow-paced, is open and comfortable - and realized that the way people see China from outside of China was very different from the reality on the ground.

This is the place Asare-Yeboah thinks he can do some work on.

Chengdu not only has excellent musicians, but also has an inclusive music creation environment. When I heard music made by musicians from Chengdu with its own characteristics and can be accepted by foreigners, I decided to make music in Chengdu, he told the Global Times.

"Maybe I'm doing music, but I'm not just talking about this industry. I feel like every kind of business outside and in China should work on communication because so many things can be done if they really come together to talk and share ideas, because present-day China is not the China from 30 years ago," Asare-Yeboah told the Global Times.

Now he is a rapper, musician, and producer, and has his own studio in Chengdu. He also has a new name: Li Kui, which comes from an ancient martial arts novel about China, to be easier accepted by his Chinese fan base.

As a rapper, he has created Chinese-style songs or remixed some popular ones and posted them on YouTube and Douyin to promote them to a larger audience.

A remix of the Chinese-style song Mang Chung with reworked lyrics combining Chinese and English posted three years ago on his YouTube account has been viewed nearly seven million times so far.

Comical skits and performance videos of him on Douyin have garnered nearly 90 million likes. A song he released in December 2022 containing Peking Opera elements and lyrics written in classic Chinese has gained more than 200,000 likes.

His selection of music video shoot locations also incorporates typical Chinese features or famous scenic spots in China as a strategy to further promote said locations to his audiences. For example, the music video to a song called 11:00, which was inspired by a quarrel between him and his wife before they got married, was filmed at the Qinghai Lake in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, which is China's largest inland salt lake.

As a producer, Asare-Yeboah is scouting for more Chinese talent for the music industry.
Nowadays Chinese youth not only understand the foreign market and foreign culture, but also know where they're from. Their music is really good but the biggest problem is the lack of communication, he said.

What Asare-Yeboah is doing now is to try his best, with the connections he has and the experience he has amassed, to find young, talented people and train them to put both cultures together to make something better.

Mostly what I want to do is to find a way to connect the Chinese and African entertainment markets. There are already Chinese people doing business in Africa, but entertainment is still a new market, he said.

There are 56 ethnic groups in China and each group has its unique culture and music. We also have our own culture and music in Africa. I want to combine them together and make great music in the future, he said.

Asare-Yeboah now has lived in China for about 15 years. He is married to a Chengdu local named Zhu Lan and the couple has a daughter who is about four years old.

He said the thing he likes most about Chinese culture is its central focus on family. "It's all about family because no matter what anybody does, the first thing they think about is the family. The biggest change in my life after I came to China is that every time when I think about doing something, I don't just think about myself. I think about the people around me; my wife, my kid, the people I work with, and the people I'm doing business with, because we move together move as a team."

One thing China has really taught me is not to be selfish. That's what I think in China has made me grow up to be a man, he said.

In recent years, Asare-Yeboah witnessed a comeback of Chinese traditional culture, including fashion, dance, and musical instruments, among young Chinese musicians.

His confidence in China and the Chinese musician market's development in the future is consequently growing.

"After all these years of living in Chengdu, I am of the opinion that music in China can be even better because Chengdu people never fail me in music. They always make me feel like Chinese music will always be there because there are always new upcoming artists ready to take Chinese music far beyond China," he said.

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