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Dadawa: China's pop idol turned U.N. ambassador

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Dadawa: China's world music champion
  • Dadawa is a globally recognized Chinese singer
  • Her music is inspired by ethnic minorities across China
  • She is also a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for China, promoting minority culture

(CNN) -- From a Chinese pop idol to a champion of ethnic minorities in China, singer Dadawa is a musician like no other.

Dadawa, whose real name is Zhu Zheqin, was a student in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou when she won a TV talent competition in the early 1990s.

But despite finding herself on the fast-track to pop stardom, she knew from a young age her life and musical career would take her away from the mainstream.

"(Growing up) I always have my own idea. I imagine one day I will be traveler, travel all around the world," she says.

"At that time I told my mother and the other kids and they were laughing at me. At that time China was like your mother, father work in a certain unit and child will follow them."

My thinking is that we have to do something definitely, especially for the ethnic minority culture.
--Dadawa, singer

Her imagination and travel led her away from the Chinese pop scene to Tibet that inspired the 1995 album "Sister Drum".

It struck a chord with a global audience -- it was the first time in 45 years that a Chinese album had been launched globally -- but also brought criticism from across China including those in Tibet.

"That's really, really surprising me," she says. "For a time I was so miserable for that because I didn't expecting. And I am always hoping in the future, for some other young generation, like the artist, who don't have to face that sort of problem."

Before becoming Dadawa, Zhu also faced a problem with her name in attracting a global audience. Tibet and her interest in surrealism inspired the transformation.

"I was thinking what kind of name I should have, of course should be very simple, you know the vowels very common language pronunciation. So I'm thinking about it, and at that time I was traveling in Tibet; I'm so in love with Tibet," she says.

"So in Tibet, Dawa means moon. And I'm also interested in Dali-ism, which is surrealism. So I put two concepts together and make a new name for myself."

Zhu has recorded four albums as Dadawa since her 1995 debut, but she has also spent much of her time promoting the ethnic culture and music of China as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador.

"My thinking is that we have to do something definitely, especially for the ethnic minority culture. You know the people have liked the culture when we are traveling there, they say 'wow that's a fantastic culture'. But when we left they always think that it's so far away from us.... That's why I thought I should do something with connect with other people."

Dadawa was talking to CNN Talk Asia at Hullett House, the design-led heritage hotel located in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong