Cui Jian is considered the father of Chinese rock music, but he's probably the father of all modern mainland Chinese music. Until he came along, Chinese music was all about patriotic songs and weak attempts to copy the love ballads that were coming out of Hong Kong. I don't think its a great overstatement to say that Lao Cui's impact on a generation of Chinese can only be compared to the impact of the US' 1960s counterculture's preferred groups combined (update: or is he China's Bob Marley?). Lao Cui, who is Chinese Korean, and his band ( a mixture of Chinese and foreigners) spoke to a generation with little to do on campus in a country that was starting to change and open up more. I was too young to really appreciate his music, its the generation before me, those who are in their mid-late 30s, who came of age during the time period when Lao Cui's music was at its apex of popularity. I heard his music, but never really paid much attention to it.
I left China before that fateful summer of 1989, but when intellectual curiosity caused me to start picking up whatever possible books I could find on China in high school (books almost always on the events of that summer), I kept coming across the name "Cui Jian." When I returned for the first time in 1998, I wanted to make sure I could buy whatever I could of Cui's music, but after a few listens, I gave up on that pretty quickly. Being used to US music circa 1998, Lao Cui's late 80s-early 90s "rock" hardly qualified as such. His songs almost always had long, instrumental solos, often a sax or a trumpet (Cui was classicly trained on the trumpet from a young age).
After releasing "The Power of the Powerless" in 1998 (buy it on amazon), it seemed Cui was comfortable just sitting back, playing the role of elder statement in the rock scene, encouraging young groups both with access (through his club venue), money, or simply encouragement. He also went into acting, playing the role of the father in one of my all time favorite movies, 我的兄弟姐妹 ("Roots and Branches") and I defy you to watch that movie without crying! Then suddenly in 2005, influenced heavily by hip hop music, Cui released a new album where these new influences are quite obvious, but it still retains its Cui-ness. I decided to attend his 2005 concert in Beijing just because it seemed like a happening, I was going for the classic Chinese reason, to "kan renao", but his performance and the rapt attention paid him by his fans really won me over (or maybe I'm softening in my older age). Anyways, enough talk, let's get to the music!!
崔健 - 一无所有 : Cui Jian - Nothing to My Name
this is the song that started it all, the song that was so popular and iconic to the Tiananmen generation.
崔健 - 出走 : Cui Jian - Escape
this is a song that I "discovered" at the concert, it has the same feeling as "Nothing to My Name," but it portrays those emotions in a different way.
崔健 - 超越那一天 : Cui Jian - Get Over That Day
This is a song off his newest album and shows off that mixture of classic Cui, with newer styles of music, including hip hop and techno. I can't say I love all the new songs (well, I never was a huge fan of his), but its impossible not to respect him for his attempt to change up and modernize his style when he could have just lived off all his old hits. I think his change of styles is a sign of how truly talented he is as a musician.
ps: Sorry for yesterday's rant (stupid Gestapo cops aside). I'll leave you with a bonus video (I love this video, it shows a lot what Cui is about, with emotions that are meant for a girl, but equally applicable toward China). For those interested in more of Lao Cui's music, I'm adding his greatest hits to the suggested reading list on the right (in this case, listening). Also, keep in mind that mp3s will only stay up for a week or so.