Charlie Davis is finally getting used to the puzzled expressions on the faces of others when he tells them that he is majoring in Chinese. “It’s not what people expect to hear,” explains Davis, a senior from Bay Village, Ohio. “I took a class (in Chinese) on a whim, and I really liked it. The structure of the language is so different that it forces you to think in ways you never have before. I like the challenge.”
Davis pursued his interest in the language by setting up a study-abroad experience in Beijing last fall. While there, he began to explore the Chinese music scene. “I’ve played drums and piano since I was very young, and I’ve always had an interest in music,” says Davis, who originally thought about translating Chinese literature or teaching the language in the United States before focusing on music. “I’ve played with several student bands on campus, mostly a mix of rock and punk, and I wanted to learn more about the way things are in China.”
Davis’s taste of Chinese music was enough to whet his appetite for more. After making some connections during his study-abroad trip last fall, he proposed an internship with a record label (Maybe Mars) in Beijing. His proposal was accepted, and he received a Lilly Project Azimuth Scholarship to make the trip.
When he arrived, he reconnected with the two label owners — Spanish businessmen with American citizenship, or as Davis describes them, “two older guys who know a lot about music.” He had a very productive summer helping the company to prepare bands that were scheduled to perform in the United States, including the painstaking, red-tape laden process of securing visas for those traveling to the U.S. “I took them to the U.S. embassy for an interview,” he says. “I also did promotion work, and took a trip to Shanghai to look at some of the bands there. It was interesting to see the differences between the music scene in Beijing, which is regarded as the political and cultural capital, and Shanghai, which is thought to be the business and financial capital.”
What most impressed his advisor, Raymond Gunn, professor of sociology and anthropology at Wooster, was the way Davis dove right into the burgeoning experimental music scene in Beijing. “I was awestruck by the wide variety of tasks Charlie managed — from promoting bands to selling merchandise to researching punk music to collaborating on a documentary of punk music in Beijing to playing the drums in one of the bands,” said Gunn. “Charlie embodies the breadth and depth of experience that the Lilly Project hopes to provide for its summer fellows. “
The payoff for Davis has been significant. “I had never been involved in the business side, but the experience in Shanghai gave me a sense of how to market the different bands,” he said. “It was also interesting to see how they run businesses and how to operate within the restrictions of the Chinese government.”
After graduation, Davis plans to move to China and stay indefinitely. “I met and became good friends with a lot of people there,” he said. “They make good music, but they have had trouble getting it out of the country. We’re hoping to grow the label, which has a variety of rock, punk, underground, and experimental groups, and help the musicians bring their music to the United States.”
Eventually, Davis plans to set up a college tour for some of the Chinese bands that come through Ohio, including stops at schools like Oberlin, Kenyon, Ohio State, and, of course, Wooster.
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