Borderlands

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

Wu Man Smithsonian/Fuse

The Rough Guide to the Mu­sic of China

Var­i­ous artists

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.

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