Oriental riff

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A sound clip of the Oriental riff.

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Simple melody of the Oriental riff. About this sound Play 
Oriental riff,[1] doubled at the fourth. About this sound Play 

The Oriental riff, also known as the Asian riff, is a musical riff or phrase that has often been used in Western culture as a trope or stereotype of orientalism to represent the idea of the Orient, China, Japan or a generic East Asian theme. The riff is sometimes accompanied by the sound of a gong.


The Oriental riff is a Western invention,[2] dating back to the "Aladdin Quick Step" used in an Aladdin stage show, The Grand Chinese Spectacle of Aladdin or The Wonderful Lamp, in 1847.[3][4] The notes used in the riff are part of a pentatonic scale, giving the riff a resemblance to East Asian music in the Western mind. However, "while the 'Oriental riff' is associated with Asia, and usually China in particular, this generic exotic riff can sound characteristically Asian, Native American, or old English. It represents a nonspecific otherness."[5]


The Oriental riff and interpolations of the Oriental riff have been included as part of numerous musical works in Western music. Examples of its use include "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas and Biddu (1974),[1][3] The Vapors' "Turning Japanese",[3] Rush's "A Passage to Bangkok",[3] and David Bowie's "China Girl".[3] The Oriental riff has also been adapted for use as video game Yie Ar Kung-Fu's main theme and the Chai Kingdom theme in Super Mario Land.

The riff was also used in an eastern series, the Japanese anime The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The song Shao Pai Long depicts a Chinese hero.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Dadadada-da-da-dun-dun-daa!: The Asian Riff". Adoption.com: China Adoption blog. February 19, 2007. Archived from the original on July 13, 2012.  Notates riff a perfect fourth higher.
  2. ^ "The Musical Cliché Figure Signifying the Far East". 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Interrogasian: Hyphen’s sensei of sensibility answers your questions about Asian culture". Hyphen. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  4. ^ Lisa Martland (7 June 2010). "Radio: Light Programme". The Stage. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  5. ^ Berti, Jim and Bowman, Durrell (2011). Rush and Philosophy, p.193. ISBN 978-0-8126-9716-2.

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