05 August 2019 | By Yang Meiping, Olivia Lewis |
How could I lose my mind
And leave everything behind?
Now the pain of missing you is
What I cannot abide.
Those tender lines
Hide lots of tales back in time.
Memories of you
flood in between my rhymes.
-- “Tender Lines”
The English lyrics to this popular Chinese band song are the work of Melody C2E, a music group founded by students at the Shanghai International Studies University.
For several years, Melody C2E has taken songs like “Zhi Duan Qing Chang,” originally sung by Chinese band "Yan Ba Er" and redubbed them into songs like “Tender Lines” for English-speaking audiences.
The group’s inspiration is rooted in 2016, when Pan Jianghao, then a sophomore at the university, attended a reception for Ahmad Alhendawi, a youth envoy for the United Nations. Pan heard Alhendawi tell students that the world wanted to hear more from Chinese young people.
Motivated by his words, Pan and his girlfriend, Lin Hongying, another student, decided to found a new musical group and share popular Chinese songs with the rest of the world via English translation. Lin and Pan named their group Melody C2E, for “Chinese to English.”
Their chosen task wasn’t easy. After selecting a few popular, “pleasant-sounding” Chinese songs and recruiting classmates to sing them, the cofounders faced the challenge of translating the lyrics to English while still maintaining the original melody, rhythm and meaning. It was a daunting undertaking.
“I was very interested in English translation for a long time,” said student He Guangtai, who joined Melody C2E after the group’s second song release. “But after I went to university, I found I didn’t have time to pursue my interest in English translation.”
After joining Melody C2E, He found he had a “knack for translation” and began leading the group’s English lyrics team in efforts to artfully translate the songs.
Attracting an audience posed another challenge. There was little initial traffic on the group’s official WeChat subscription account. But slowly, the songs gained popularity among the university’s student body.
“There was a time when every time we posted a song, we all watched the traffic online closely and stayed up until midnight to see the clicks go beyond 1,000,” He said. “I think, in about two months, our subscribers totaled about 3,000. It was a very memorable time.”
Now Melody C2E has around 300,000 subscribers, thanks, in part, to popular translations of songs like “Liang Liang” (“Chilly"), which was famous as the soundtrack in a hit Chinese series, and “Qi Feng Le” (“Song of the Wind”). The group maintains an active relationship with its followers, sometimes taking their advice on which songs to translate. Some followers even reported hearing Melody C2E’s songs played in a Paris taxi.
In November 2017, the group won a special award in the first International Contest for Creative Communication of China’s Story, which was organized by the China Foreign Language Publishing Administration and others.
The increasing popularity of the group’s music attracted new members, including Chen Yuezhou, who now leads Melody C2E since the original cofounders graduated.
'The songs’ lyrics are really beautiful,” he said of the group’s success.
Melody C2E’s production team now has expanded to about a dozen members, some of whom translate, while others record the songs in empty classrooms or dormitories with specially purchased microphones. The group releases one song a week on its WeChat account and accompanies the audio recording with English and Chinese lyrics, all displayed against a uniquely illustrated background.
Despite the group’s rising popularity, commercial profit is not the goal.
“We have two purposes,” He said. “One is to let the foreigners know about Chinese culture. The other is to improve English and Chinese communication to better understand foreign cultures.”
While Melody C2E’s current audience consists largely of Chinese students, foreigners have weighed in with thoughts about the songs.
“The lyrics are really poetic,” said Maddie Hellwig, an American student currently studying in Shanghai. “I thought it was a really good translation. I noticed that Chinese songs seem to be more detailed than original English songs, which tend to be more focused on dialogue. In ‘Tender Lines,’ the reference to how clouds floated by was very clear imagery.”
She added, “This is quite different from what I normally listen to. But I would like to hear more of this group’s content. I like them, and they have potential, I think. I’m excited to see where they go from here.”
Lauren Henk, also from the United States, described the songs as “calming and slow-paced,” but Oli Owen, an English foreign-exchange student, said “the singers on the songs were good, but sometimes the wording of the lyrics was a little bit confusing. In general, I do prefer more up-tempo music, but still I can appreciate that the songs are well written.”