There was an article on Kenny G in the NY Times this weekend. Actually it was an article on the popularity of Kenny G in China where one of his songs, Going Home, has become part of the cultural landscape, played everywhere, in supermarkets, schools, shopping malls, etc. You cannot travel to China these days and not hear Going Home. It is everywhere. And that has been the case since it was released 25 years ago.
It was an interesting article because I remember well my introduction to Kenny G. I was a lecturer at the Shanghai Maritime Institute at the time and one of my students, Mr. Yu Shi Jie, came to my apartment one day. After a little chit-chat Mr. Yu surreptitiously pulled a cassette out of his black leather jacket ( this was after all China in 1990 when people were still fearful of any display of things Western ) and asked me if I wanted to hear “sex phone.” Thinking he had meant to say phone sex, which was popular in the US back then, I looked at him incredulously and asked “sex phone in China ?” He said yes and brazenly proceeded to put the cassette in a tape player sitting on my desk. I kind of cringed not knowing what to expect but as soon as I heard Kenny G’s alto sax coming out of the speaker, I just laughed. Mr Yu of course had meant to say Saxophone.
So that was my introduction to Kenny G in China. That was 1990 and in those days Going Home was played everywhere. After a year or two of incessant Going Home all of us in the ex-pat community in Shanghai were sick of Kenny G. So I was surprised to see that hit song, Going Home is still going strong in China some 25 years later.
But the article in the Times was interesting for another reason as well. Amazingly Kenny G receives no royalties for any of his music when it is played in China. But he does not mind. He is quoted as saying.
“Do I wish I could get paid for everything? Of course,” he said in a telephone interview. “But I surrender to the fact that that’s the way things go there.” Touring China in the 1990s, he heard “Going Home” playing in Tiananmen Square, in Shanghai, on a golf course and “in a restroom in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It made me feel great to know there was no language barrier to connecting with music.”
There is a lot of wisdom in that statement “…I surrender to the fact that that’s the way things go there.”
One of the reasons so many foreign businesses have a difficult time in China is that they refuse to “surrender” to China’s way of doing things. They try to impose their own value system on the Chinese and they are offended when the Chinese reject it. They are very un-kenny G-like about the whole thing. IP is a good example. Many foreign businesses expect the Chinese to respect IP failing to understand that just 20 years ago the concept of IP did not even exist in China and that many people there, especially in under developed areas, still don’t understand it. In Kenny G;s words: “…that’s just the way things go there..”
Funny but I would say that Kenny G understands China more than some people who have been doing business there for years.