A health and fitness regime and spiritual discipline which became so popular it was banned in China for fears it was taking hold like a religion is now finding a voice with the help of a musician from Gateshead.
The Falun Dafa practice, more commonly known as Falun Gong, is all about gentle movement and meditation based on ancient foundations of enlightenment.
When, in the nineties, “spiritual master” Li Hongzhi popularised it in China, with around 70m residents taking it up within six years, it became seen as a threat to the Chinese state and was banned.
The crackdown soon led to claims by its followers of arrest, torture, abuse and even allegations of organ harvesting.
To help raise awareness of what was happening, a touring exhibition came to Newcastle in 2010 featuring oils and watercolours by artists from China who had since fled the communist regime and were brought together by a professor who had been detained for three months in a labour camp in the country.
The Art of Truth, Compassion, Tolerance – a title referring to the three tenets of Falun Dafa - was brought to Curtis Mayfield House in Carliol Square with the help of David English, a local musician and practitioner of the technique.
Now David, who was born in Consett and lives in Lobley Hill, has penned a new song specially for a first album by Truth on Tour, a non-profit organisation made up of a body of artists fighting persecution of the practice which it describes as one of greatest human rights crimes in modern history.
The 36-year-old, who has been writing and playing music in and around Newcastle for almost 20 years and has worked in local recording studios as an arranger, engineer and producer for bands, said: “In 2012 I was contacted by Truth on Tour to ask if I would like to be a part of it.
“They knew I practised Falun Gong and that I had already written songs on this subject. As time went on they asked if I would contribute a song to the album and so I did.
“I wrote the song China: Be Free and recorded it all here in the North East with local musicians.”
When David, who says he was always interested in martial arts and eastern philosophy, first started practising Falun Dafa in 2005 he was suffering from ME but soon found he regained his health.
He was delighted to help out when he was asked to contribute a song to the digital album and also to become a spokesman.
He said: “My inspiration for the song was simple.
“As I am musician I am prone to day-dreaming now and then and I remember one day thinking what I would do if I came face to face with a simple Chinese farmer who didn’t speak any English and didn’t know anything about this issue and the severity of some of the abuses taking place.”
His idea was that, as he talked with feeling, the farmer would pick up on the compassion behind his words even if not understanding them.
“The song followed in a stream of consciousness which I then edited down. And that’s it really - a little while later they asked if I would be a spokesperson for the project.”
The 13-track compilation album Truth On Tour: Vol. 1 features a mix of indie and label artists, such as pop artist Belle with Be The Voice; father and daughter folk artists Randall and Sara Effner whose song Plum Blossoms in the Snow tells of a family man murdered in China in 2001; rap artists Rise Ascend and Direction whose track Behind the Wall is about cover-ups and forced organ harvesting; LA artist and producer Kevin Dippold who rocks it up in Rally The World; and Malcolm Wilson, of Guyana, whose reggae-influenced style is brought to bear in his uplifting Righteous Generation about the power we all have to implement change.
David’s China: Be Free is the last track on the album.
He said: “It has been quite an inspiring time working with other like-minded musicians around the world, who feel really strongly about this issue and are trying to bring it to a wider public attention.”
He is currently completing his own first album of original material and will be playing at Bar Enigma in Carliol Square, Newcastle, every Wednesday night from June 18. Catch up with him at www.facebook.com/davidenglishsongs and visit truthontour.bandcamp.com for details of the recently-released album.