On July 17, veteran Chinese rockers Black Panther released their 6th album 《我们是谁》 Who We Are – a comeback 9 years in the waiting.
Into their 26th year as a band, Black Panther are regarded as one of the pioneers of rock, alongside Tang Dynasty. Despite the legendary success of their eponymous debut album back in 1991, the band has consistently been plagued by member changes and lacklustre subsequent albums.
This time round, they are joined by a new vocalist 张淇 Zhang Qi, a member of the post-80s generation. The band hope the younger blood will infuse them with much needed energy, and ideally, a brand new start to many more years in the music business. Zhang is multi-talented, not only is he lauded to resemble Japan superstar Kimura Takuya, he also handles the bass guitar with swag, and writes songs for the band.
The band’s current lineup also includes 李彤 Li Tong (guitar), 王文杰 Wang Wenjie (bass), 赵明义 Zhao Mingyi (drums), and 惠鹏 Hui Peng (Keyboard).
1988, on national TV, Godfather of chinese rock Cui Jian shook the nation with his “Nothing to My Name”, opening the chinese world to rock music. Black Panther was one of the many rock bands that sprung up in the aftermath later that year.
Here’s a nice excerpt from an article about what Black Panther meant to youths back then:
“At that time, walking on the streets of Beijing, you can see a sea of youth rockers sporting long hair and black leather, inspired by Black Panther. Once in a while, a bicycle passes by, with the casette player in the back seat blasting Dont Break My Heart and Shame. 20 years ago, a group of youths, calling themselves “Black Panther” dropped a resounding bomb on the Chinese Rock industry, shaking society to the core.
For kids who just went through college, Black Panther back then came at just the right moment. Cui Jian’s music was like high art, classy but obscure. Black Panther’s music was just right, classier than pop, but very acessible. With the excellent voice of Dou Wei, good arrangements, and alot of help from others in the industry, including Faye Wong, they had all the elements for success. Personally, I prefer Cui Jian, but Black Panther’s music is also really good, not the mindblowing kind, but very comfortable. This kind of music was very suitable for the hormone-raging, fervent college youths. Black Panther was also the band that brought rock music to kids of the 70s, and 80s.”
Zhang Qi is, in fact, their 6th vocalist. Over these 25 years, Black Panther has hosted many of the legendary rock vocalists in Chinese history, including Ding Wu 丁武, Dou Wei 窦唯, and Qin Yong 秦勇. All other band members remained till today. (It almost seems like Black Panther is the perfect stepping board to an individual career, since most of their vocalists continued their music careers even after leaving the band.)
Ding Wu founded the band with guitarist Li Tong, who left in 1988 to start the other legendary Chinese rock band, Tang Dynasty 唐朝乐队, which plays heavy-metal music.
Dou Wei, their second vocalist, is perhaps the one the band is most famous for. The voice behind the most famous songs in their debut album, arguably the band’s most classic songs – Shame 无地自容 and Don’t break my heart – have Dou Wei’s powerful, angsty yet mature voice. The album sold 1.5 million copies, a record in the Chinese music industry.
Unfortunately, Dou Wei left even before their debut album was released in 1990. For mandopop listeners, Dou Wei is probably most well-known for his romance and marriage with superstar Faye Wong. In 1996, Faye disappeared from public view for several months, before being discovered by the media awaiting birth of her child with Dou Wei, and secretly registering for marriage with him. Somehow, everyone was against their union at that time, threatening the end of her career, causing rifts in her relationship with her parents. The two had been together since 1994, open about their relationship, as Dou’s name consistently appeared as producer in Faye’s albums. However, marriage was unhappy as Faye was stationed in Hong Kong most of the time, her popularity and fame overshadowing their relationship.
In 1994, the band signed with Japanese record company JVC. Their second album 《黑豹II 光芒之神》 was produced with Luan Shu.
Next up is Qin Yong, probably their longest staying vocalist, from 1994 all the way to 2005. Before Black Panther, Qin Yong was a member of (another) 五月天, as well as the band 1989 一九八九. Together, Black Panther pushed out their third and fourth albums, 无是无非 and 不能让我的烦恼没机会表白. An immensely emotional experience pushed Qin to leave the band. His father, who came to watch their concert, passed away after seeing his son sing the last song.
I personally find Qin Yong the most compelling vocalist, his voice has 沧桑，the feeling of having seen the world in its true colors.
Around the same period as Qin Yong, Black Panther welcomed another member – keyboardist 冯小波 Feng Xiaobo. Feng’s musicality brought the band’s music a whole new vibrancy and color. Sadly, he too left in 1999.
After Qin, Black Panther recruited 张克芃 Zhang Kepeng, a reputed singer and actor in his own right. Zhang Kepeng was the vocalist for their 5th album 黑豹 V (2004), which disappointed many and flopped in sales.
All was quiet until late 2012 when news leaked that the band had started recording a new album. March this year, new vocalist Zhang Qi was officially announced.
Thus far, there’s been mixed reactions about the comeback. Some welcome the end of a long hiatus of this legendary rock band. Others are criticising that the band has “lost their soul”, “pandered to commercial interests”, citing their appearance on variety show as judges, their new image with gelled hair and sleek leather. (It’s amusing considering the age gap between the rest of the band and Zhang Qi, who really is visibly much younger.)
For those who are interested, the band filmed a 25 min documentary (with Eng subs!) as part of the promotion for their new album, reflecting on their tumultuous 25 years history.