In 2011, Beijing-based indie folk band Shanren (literally “Mountain Men”), traveled across China’s Yunnan province to take in and film the rich indigenous musical traditions, visiting rural villages of Yi, Lisu, Nu, Tibetan, and Wa minorities. While joining the villagers in song and dance, they found the music so tied up in the drinking culture—downing copious amounts of the local equivalent of moonshine, fiery homemade liquor distilled from rice or sweet corn—that they turned the boozy footage into the video for their “Drinking Song.”
2,000 miles southwest of Beijing and home to 26 of China’s 55 official ethnic minority tribes, Yunnan is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional Shangri-La of James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. As the home province for three members of Shanren (the fourth is from neighboring Guizhou), the remote and colorful province, tucked between Tibet and Southeast Asia, continues to inspire artists and dazzle visitors.
Based on a Yi minority folk song, the lyrics to “Drinking Song” translate to, “you have to drink whether or not you want to.” As the band found, when you’re a guest in a rural village, that’s pretty much your situation—the hospitality can be overwhelming!