Wu Man Smithsonian/Fuse
The Rough Guide to the Music of China
Network/Fuse GIVEN China’s immense and increasing impact on our economic welfare, it’s a travesty that music from the People’s Republic receives such scant exposure in Australia. Borderlands and
The Rough Guide to the Music of China are, therefore, significant and welcome new releases, which between them provide a fascinating overview. US-based Chinese virtuoso Wu Man has introduced her instrument, the pipa, to the world at large during the past couple of decades via high-profile public collaborations with the likes of the Kronos Quartet. On Borderlands, she plays her short-necked lute in a unique partnership with Muslim Uighur lutists from western China. These master instrumentalists from the historic Silk Route, whose music draws on influences from Persia, India and East Asia, perform on exotic stringed instruments less familiar to Western audiences. On the medieval tune Shadiana, Wu’s pipa works particularly well in a duet with the dutar, a two-stringed longnecked fretted lute that is a staple in Uighur homes. In the fast-picked solo piece Kazakh
Song, her pipa is tuned to imitate a Turkic lute, producing what sounds superficially like an oriental twist on bluegrass. The instrument is back in more familiar register in Hezhou Erling and appearing to speak a lilting Chinese tongue in a lyrical duo with vocalist Ma Ersa. The album’s most expansive offering has pipa, satar and dutar backing singer Sanubar Turson in the pentatonic-based Hanleylun. Beautifully packaged, Borderlands is accompanied by a 48-page booklet that is admirably informative, as well as an excellent DVD. Esoteric it may be, but this is a visionary collection. The Rough Guide compilation also covers considerable ground in 18 tracks. The collection opens with a 1940s recording from pre-communist Shanghai that is an amalgam of Chinese folk and American jazz (shidaiqu). In a later track, the Shanghai Restoration Project draws on the inspiration of the same period but tastefully adds electronic effects. Acts representing the post-80s and 90s rock boom include Cold Fairyland, an innovative outfit from Shanghai that features pipa in a triphop setting, and Beijing’s all-girl punk band Hang on the Box. One of China’s biggest rock stars, Xie Tian Xiao (aka XTX), brings together traditional zither and reggae. The Chinese Dub Orchestra mixes deep bass and beats with zither and dulcimer. Classical singer Li Guyi uses an ambient pop base to equal effect. The ethnic minority groups of the most southwestern Chinese province, Yunnan, and the starkly contrasting style of the Uighurs of northwestern China are very well projected by the bands Shanren and Panjir respectively. Inner Mongolia folk revivalists Hanggai have a bonus CD to themselves. Traditional fare peaks with shimmering instrumentals by Min Huifen and Guo Gan, virtuosos on erhu, the twostringed fiddle.