Small talk with Zhang Si’an

LISTEN: Zhang Si’an's diverse music plus his full June schedule

Bordeaux native Jean-Sebastien Hery is better known as Zhang Si’an (or Djang San) in Beijing’s music circuit. Having spent ten years, on and off, living in Beijing and playing music, he’s now considered a ‘veteran’ in the scene (after all, China has only been rocking for 26 years, considering the press has been claiming that the moment Cui Jian performed ‘Nothing To My Name’ in 1986 symbolised the birth of Chinese rock ‘n’ roll).
He performs as a folk singer, the frontman of experimental/progressive/rock group The Amazing Insurance Salesmen, and now an electronic musician performing under the name ‘Djang San’. We talk to the man with multiple faces, as many of them are showing up in the upcoming month on an exhausting schedule (see below).
How did you end up in Beijing? I mean you’ve been here for a looong time…
Before coming to China, I was living in Bordeaux, France. Back then my sister was living in China and I had started to study Chinese as a part of my International Commerce major at the Bordeaux University. I first came to Beijing in 2000, and at the River Bar [now the Sanlitun Soho – Ed.] I played with Zhang Quan and his band Wild Children (read music writer Jonathan Campbell’s account on the band here, taken from a chapter of his book (Red Rock: The Long Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll).

I also played with Xiao He, Zhao Laoda, Buyi, Maize, Zhang Wei wei, Guolong and met other bands like Brain Failure, etc... ..At that point, I decided to stay because I was interested by the music and also to make my Chinese better. I studied in university for half a year, and every Wednesday I played at the River Bar.
How’s the scene different now?
Back then the whole underground music scene was just not concerning many people. There weren’t that many bands, it was less commercial, and it was more about people ‘wanting to do it’. I remember Second Hand Roses [performing on June 16 at Tango – Ed.] at that moment, they were really good.
You were, at some point, singing in Chinese a lot, especially for your folk sets.
Yes. I have written and recorded many songs in Chinese (a few albums), being mainly influenced by the underground folk music scene in Beijing and traditional Chinese music.  I still do shows entirely in Chinese, but less than before because I'm now exploring different musical universes. Nowadays I try to concentrate more on instrumental music and musical harmony. I also started my electro-folk project about a year ago which is a new adventure for me and a new way of doing music.
On stage, as a one man band, I manage about seven machines and instruments, sometimes using guitar, sometimes using keyboard, sometimes using Chinese instruments, often mixing things together. When performing, I like not knowing completely where the song will go, improvising and fooling around with all the equipment I have.
What are your projects?
Before coming to Beijing, I was only into rock music and I actually learned to play traditional French chanson and gypsy jazz in Beijing. Things like ‘La Vie en rose’, I only learned to play in Beijing. It’s a very simple song, but I just wasn’t interested
When you live far from the place where you were born, you somehow become closer to your own culture. In Beijing, being in contact with all kinds of musical styles, people of all nationalities and languages all the time, I have been able to learn a lot of things very fast and be involved with many different styles of music at the same time. I probably couldn’t have done it so fast elsewhere. I’m still learning now.
I'm currently recording a demo in French. I have written many words in French over the past few years that I have never recorded, I feel like doing it now. Also, I plan to record a few gigs as a solo act and release a new live recording before the end of the year.
Another of my plans is to record something with The Amazing Insurance Salesmen soon. I recently put all my discography on the internet. Anybody can now listen to the 14 albums I have released these last ten years for free (

Zhang Si’an (Djang San) June schedule
June 6
Electro set at Salud as Djang San. (perhaps a DJ set)
June 9
The Amazing Insurance Salesmen at Temple
June 15
Electro-Folk set at XP as Djang San, in collaboration with Jurat from Xinjiang
June 21
Electro-Folk set at XP as Djang San for the Fête de la musique (World Music Day).
June 21
The Amazing Insurance Salesmen at Mao Livehouse on the 21 for the "Fête de la musique".
June 22
Electro-folk set at 2Kolegas as Djang San.
June 23
The Amazing Insurance Salesmen at 2Kolegas for Daze Feast.
June 28
Electro set at Temple as Djang San.
June 29
Djang San at Yugong Yishan with “L'enfance rouge” from France.
June 30
The Amazing Insurance Salesmen at Temple with “L'enfance rouge” from France.