You might think the phenomenal popularity of 12 Girls Band is simply a product of commercialism. But their unique blending of Chinese classical music with western pop beats makes them much more than the Asian answer to Vanessa Mae, Bond or even Mrvica Maksim. They have brought thousand-year-old Chinese music back to the world stage. The Beijing-based musical troop first conquered Japan, one of the most important music markets in the world. They became the second best-selling musical act of this year. With over 150 million records sold, 12 Girls Band are now pop icons in Japan. On December 31, the girls will play at the annual Red and White Song Festival, Japan's most prestigious music event. Behind the band's success is legendary manager Wang Xiaojing, who discovered numerous influential musicians such as Cui Jian, the father of Chinese rock. He says that he was inspired by a concert featuring rock and erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. 'China only has folk and traditional music. Pop music emerged in the 1980s, and it came not from the mainland but Hong Kong and Taiwan. After watching that special concert in 1996, I thought [a mixture of Chinese traditional music and western pop] may work,' he said. His first step was to place a recruitment advert. Hundreds of musicians flocked to the audition. Wang finally settled on 12 young girls, graduates of Beijing's top music institutes and skilled at playing Chinese musical instruments such as erhu, sanxian, yangqin, pipa, dizi and guzheng. Wang thinks that there are a number of reasons for 12 Girls Band's success in Japan. The fact they are young and pretty is an added bonus, but the real key to their popularity is their unique musical style, he says. 'Because of the economic downturn in Japan, people tend to look for music that can comfort them, and 12 Girls Band's music provides that,' he says. 'Although there are a wide variety of music genres in Japan, 12 Girls Band is unique. It represents true oriental beauty, which no longer exists inwesternised Japanese society.' When 12 Girls Band was first launched, Wang encountered some criticism from Chinese musicians who complained that they had gone against tradition. 'But later on, people begin to accept them. Because of the lack of lyrics, there is no language barrier in their music, and this is why their music can travel very far outside China,' Wang said. 12 Girls Band will perform this Friday at the Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Awards organised by Radio Television Hong Kong. You can also see them in concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum on January 16/17.