My Secret Life: Sa Dingding, Singer & musician, 25

Interview,Charlotte Philby
Saturday 10 May 2008 00:00

The home I grew up in... As a child I lived with my grandmother, leading the life of a nomad. In springtime we stayed in a tent in the inner-Mongolian grasslands and in the winter we moved to a house in a city called Xilinhot, about 650km north of Beijing. When I was six, I moved with my parents to Jinan, Shandong Province, just south of Beijing.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a singer. I could hear people singing freely every day in the grasslands; it was something that coloured my childhood.

The moment that changed me for ever... I've developed gradually through my life, reacting to each day as it comes; no single experience has changed me directly or suddenly.

My greatest inspiration... I went to music school and learnt the philosophy of the art. Music is freedom and relaxation, and the philosophy behind it helps me to express my emotions. For me, the world is music and music makes the imagination.

My real-life villain... I believe that there is no such person as a villain. Bad and good acts are not definitive. Everything in life is about contrast and balance.

At night I dream of... I hope not to dream, because I wish not to desire. Also, when you are dreaming you can't control things and I like to be in control.

What I see when I look in the mirror... I see a very honest and confident person; my reflection is a result of who I am and what I've done.

My favourite item of clothing... I like all kinds of clothes but I have a collection of special decorative jewellery. My favourite pieces of these are handmade by me, and I find it hard to choose between them. Modern people tend to lead busy lives and buy in products, but in ancient times people paid more attention to themselves and their surroundings, which is something I feel we can nurture by making our own things.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... anything unrelated to my music, apart from making things!

All my money goes on... records, clothes, materials and movies from all over the world, particularly France and India.

I drive... Actually, I don't drive. When I'm in Beijing, my mother drives me around.

My house is... very warm because of the people I am living with. I live with my mother, who is a doctor, and my father, who is a government official. We're currently in a newly built house in the city, but my parents move around a lot for work so our location changes regularly.

My favourite building... I love the Potala Palace, in Lhasa, Tibet, which used to be the chief residence of the Dalai Lama [until he fled to Dharamsala in India in 1959].

Movie heaven... I love all sorts of films, anything from Bollywood to obscure European titles, but my favourite film of the past few years has to be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 2006 drama Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

A book that changed me... A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

The last album I bought... was the Chemical Brothers' We Are the Night – not only is their music full of imagination, but their control of technology and electronic sound is an inspiration to a generation of pop artists.

My favourite work of art... There is a sculpture in the east of China that is carved into the stone of a mountain. I find the scale of the piece is phenomenal.

The person who really makes me laugh... is Mr Bean. I love the dark humour, which is unlike other more superficial comedies. There's one particular scene involving chickens in the film Mr Bean's Holiday, which I find particularly hilarious.

The shop I can't walk past... is HMV. There is one in Hong Kong which I always visit when I am there. Lots of Chinese music fans will travel far just to go there.

The best invention ever... is plain white paper. I can do anything I want with it, so it provides a creative space.

In 10 years' time, I hope to... have created a musical featuring oriental culture. I'll still be living in China with my parents, because we only have one child in my family and I don't want to leave them alone.

My greatest regret... There's really nothing that I regret. When my parents brought me into this world, they taught me how to make the right decisions so there is nothing I have done without deep consideration.

My life in seven words... freedom, imagination, interest, communication, creativity, silence, design.

A life in brief
Sa Dingding was born in Inner Mongolia in 1983. A singer, musician, composer and choreographer, she sings in Mandarin, Tibetan and Sanskrit, and sometimes in an entirely self-created language. Combining traditional Chinese folk music and Western electronica, she released her debut album seven years ago and recently won the Radio 3 World Music Award, in the Asia Pacific category. She currently lives with her parents in Beijing and will perform at the World Music Celebration Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 July (for tickets call 0845 401 5040) and at the Harrogate Festival on 1 August (for tickets call 0845 130 8840). Her album 'Alive' is out now on Wrasse Records

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