Cover of Sinéad O'Connor, With Nonsense Lyrics, In Mandarin

So, ever since we published this book Running through Beijing, we’ve been attuned to all the crazy, Western knock-offs coming out of China these days.

But this right here really takes the cake. It’s not even a knock-off. It’s more like a knock-off that’s so original that it becomes its own thing.

So wow. There’s pirating Western goods, and then there’s building simulacra Apple stores in China, and then there’s this: Fatima Al Qadiri’s cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung in Mandarin with nonsense lyrics. And it’s an eerie, freaky sound that’s sort of familiar to your Western ears but also very creepy and sinister at the same time.

As Adam Bychawski explains at The Quietus:

‘Shanzhai’, the opening track of Fatima Al Qadiri’s debut album Asiatisch, takes its title from a Chinese term used to describe counterfeit Western goods. Literally it translates to “mountain village”, evoking both the outlaw nature of the industry and the crudeness of its reproductions – copyright-evading spoonerisms of sportswear brands and fast food chains. While such knock-offs are commonplace, there is perhaps more craft and sophistication to some imitations than that definition grants. Electronic giants such as Apple, slow to meet Chinese demand, have had their official stores outnumbered by dozens of simulacra, painstakingly recreated down to the uniform of their employees – to all intents and purposes the real thing. The term has come refer not just to products but lookalikes and parodies more generally, such as the track itself, a cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ sung in Mandarin, only with nonsense lyrics – a joke at our expense. Much like the Apple stores, we might have never known the difference.

This seems to me like a really, really fantastic instance of translation. Cultural exchange, play with language, the creation of a hybrid that’s transcends any one place and is purely astonishing. This is what translation is all about.

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