Paul Meredith ─ an expat story in song
American singer and songwriter Paul Meredith’s passion for cross-cultural exchange through music has taken him before audiences of all ages in China and the United States.
The Michigan farm boy has performed in clubs and schools in Hong Kong, Dali of Yunnan Province and Shanghai for more than 25 years.
Known as Ma Baoluo by his Chinese friends, Meredith plays banjo, mandolin, bass, harmonica and other instruments in addition to acoustic and electric guitar.
He has written more than 120 songs and instrumental compositions and hosted many songwriters’ showcase nights in Shanghai.
Meredith first came to China in 1990 as a relief worker with the United Nations based in Hong Kong. He witnessed the return of Hong Kong to the motherland in 1997 and wrote several songs about his feelings on it, as well as his experience of being an expat there.
“Slow Boat to China” is one of them, in which Meredith expressed confidence and hope of the historic handover.
“I implied in the song that not only China but indeed all of us in the world are on this Ark of Unity, and that we will find our way together to steer the ark to our common destiny,” he says. Meredith relocated from Hong Kong to Shanghai afterward.
On the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return this July, he released a new video of the song in Shanghai in hope that more people can hear it — to see how one of the world’s oldest societies, China, has exhibited this truth of unity in what he calls “a deep, sincere and simple way.”
“Hong Kong and Shanghai have an important shared history. And both have stunningly beautiful waterfront scenery and architecture,” he says.
“People in both cities love to go to the waterfront and enjoy just being there. It was a fun challenge with the production team to make the video reflect this.”
Growing up on a farm, Meredith was always outside working with only the farm animals around for company, like cows and horses. He says he has never been shy about singing.
“My dad was a fine musician. But in his life of hard work, he had no time practicing much. However, he made sure there was always a guitar or musical instrument around the house for the kids to play.
“So I played guitar since I was 8 years old. If I heard a song on the radio I liked, I would always try to play it.”
In 2000, Meredith went to Dali in Yunnan for the first time with his wife and two sons. A decade later when his wife visited it again in 2012, she really liked the beautiful place, so the family went back and spent some time there.
It was in Dali where Meredith met the players from the Mountain High Band (Gaoshan Yuedui) and made a music video named “Yunnan Stars,” in which he sings “The Dali stars glow yellow like my headlight. And the buskers from everywhere jam the streets outside — world music!”
“There are very nice players in Dali and it feels like there is more time to talk to people and relax,” Meredith says. “I have gained plenty of inspiration, especially from the Bai and other minority people that live there and play music.”
In addition to doing music of his own, Meredith teaches guitar full time at Shanghai’s international schools. In 2014, he led a trio of Chinese musicians on a tour of schools and universities in the US Midwest, bringing the excitement of Chinese and American songs to many new ears.
He is currently on his seventh CD of original songs. Earlier songs can be found online at www.cdbaby.com/cd/pmeredith1.
Q: When did you discover music as a way of expressing yourself?
A: I had a try at writing songs in the early years. I like to write songs because I think they are an important way in which we can share many things that are hard to share with just words.
Sometimes it is sharing joyful things like love, patriotism, or funny stories that really happen (or at least really could happen!) ... and sometimes we share our thoughts with songs about difficult things like war, or violence or racism, that are hard to discuss but still should be expressed.
Q: How did you get involved with local musicians when you arrived in Shanghai?
A: Since I began learning Chinese, I wanted to live in China. Now it’s already 14 years in Shanghai. My wife (who is Chinese from Hong Kong) brought many Hong Kong and other artists here during the 1990s, so it made sense to try to relocate. In Shanghai, it is easy to make friends. Some years ago I organized an open mic at a local pub on Hengshan Road. I’m so glad to know many great musicians in Shanghai, I feel lucky.
Q: What is your understanding of Chinese folk songs? Has it influenced you in the way you do your own music?
A: Traditional Chinese folk songs attract me to Chinese culture. They teach us a lot. Our band loves to discover and learn these songs, and sometimes I add English verses to help foreigners understand the song. Chinese people love these folk songs, maybe because it reminds them of their past in a nice way.
Q: What do you have in mind for your life in Shanghai in future?
A: I hope to keep writing and recording my own songs and hope that they get better. And I hope to keep learning Chinese songs that help me share Chinese culture and experience with people in my home country. I love the power of song to inspire and provoke new ideas, and love exploring new ways to bring the traditional folk songs of America and China to new audiences.