A new musical set in Shanghai in the 1930s which explores the political tension and music of the era.
Shanghai in the early 20th century was the most international city in the world, and saw the birth of the Communist movement, the world’s largest opium trade, and a thriving jazz and big band scene.
SHIDAIQU is a new musical set in this period which explores the political tension and music of the era.
The score merges Shidaiqu, a genre of then popular dancing music, with elements from modern jazz, funk, and hip hop. Shidaiqu is a fusion of Chinese folk melodies and Gershwin-esque Western orchestrations which overtook European ballroom dance in the 1920s as money flooded into the city from the West, funding the construction of dance halls and night clubs frequented by the younger generation.
We follow the journey of a young laborer and musician from the countryside who comes to Shanghai to pursue the study of jazz. They fall in with a group of dissidents, artists, students, and misfits. The group rubs against the corrupt rule of Shanghai’s organized crime and opium trade, propped up by the Nationalists under Jiang Jieshi. It culminates in the Shanghai Massacre and the murder of 10,000 suspected and known Communists. The laborer, not a communist themselves, is one of the few who remain to pick up the pieces of the city.
What is the role of an art in a revolution?
Perhaps art critiques power. Or perhaps it uplifts marginalized voices. Maybe art needs only to be honest. Maybe artists just want to focus on their practice – you might as well ask what the role of a plumber is in a revolution.
But no matter what, art must engage the people. This increasingly involves being political, yet the pursuit of art in service of social change can be self-centering and unnecessary, especially in a time of scarcity and inequity. This as true in our world as it is in the world of Shidaiqu.
The wealth gap between the elites and working class is being centered more and more, and movements based in ideologies calling for redistribution have taken root. But these movements do not agree on the future we are building.
For art to be revolutionary, it should build consensus. It should guide the arc of change. The story of China’s revolution holds many lessons on what might be gained in an ideological war, and what we stand to lose. If our revolution comes, will it propel us toward a better world, or will it simply serve to erect a more authoritarian and antisocial regime?
Shidaiqu explores these questions and in doing so gives us insight into our role as artists today.