Rhythm of mu­sic from Africa sets warm tone

Cul­tural ex­changes be­come more fre­quent as coun­tries draw closer

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By CHEN NAN chennan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For many Chi­nese au­di­ences, Zhu Mingy­ing, a vet­eran singer from the China Ori­en­tal Song and Dance En­sem­ble, was the artist most re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing them to the vi­brant beat and color of African mu­sic and dance back in 1979.

Zhu, adorned in flow­ing cos­tumes, be­came syn­ony­mous with tra­di­tional African songs.

She cred­its for­mer Pre­mier Zhou En­lai as her in­spi­ra­tion af­ter he vis­ited the en­sem­ble in the 1960s and called on the singers and dancers to be “more than just artists but also diplo­mats”.

Zhou — who called for the es­tab­lish­ment of the en­sem­ble in 1962 — hoped to see cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and Africa be­ing pro­moted by the en­sem­ble’s per­for­mances. Zhu, who grad­u­ated from Bei­jing Dance Academy in 1966, de­cided to add a fresh el­e­ment to the troupe’s rou­tine.

“At that time, China had been tightly closed to the out­side world for decades. People were ea­ger to learn new things and ideas,” Zhu said.

“Since I had stud­ied dance for many years, I knew singing and dancing to­gether would be more in­ter­est­ing than sim­ply singing. More­over, it of­fered a new ex­pe­ri­ence for the au­di­ence to see a Chi­nese singer im­i­tat­ing Africans in per­form­ing their art.”

The es­tab­lish­ment of mod­ern Sino-African re­la­tions dates back to the late 1950s when China signed trade agree­ments with Al­ge­ria, Egypt, Guinea, So­ma­lia, Morocco and Sudan. Zhou em­barked on a 10-coun­try tour of Africa be­tween De­cem­ber 1963 and Jan­uary 1964.

The open­ing of Sino-African re­la­tions also in­spired schol­ars to ex­plore the new mu­si­cal world of the con­ti­nent. Li Xin, a pro­fes­sor from the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, started re­search­ing African mu­sic more than 10 years ago. What at­tracted him most was the vi­tal­ity and va­ri­ety of its mu­sic.

“When you ac­tu­ally go to Africa, you will see and feel how closely mu­sic and life con­nect and in­flu­ence each other,” he said.

Li was in­vited by Akin Euba, a pro­fes­sor and con­tem­po­rary Nige­rian com­poser and mu­si­col­o­gist, to give a speech on Chi­nese re­search into African mu­sic at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in 2003.

They or­ga­nized an in­ter­na­tional sym­po­sium on African mu­sic in Bei­jing in 2005 and 2007, with African mu­sic work­shops, lec­tures and con­certs. This led to an even greater in­flux of in­ter­na­tional spe­cial­ists in African mu­sic.

Pro­fes­sor Ki­masi Browne, from Azusa Pa­cific Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia took up res­i­dency at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic for sev­eral months.

Drum­mer and pro­fes­sor Pas­cal Younge from Ghana, went to Bei­jing with his wife, who is a dancer, in 2005, and taught stu­dents how to play African drums and per­form tra­di­tional dance.

“African mu­sic has a long his­tory and it’s still in­flu­enc­ing mu­si­cians to­day world­wide in dif­fer­ent gen­res, such as rock, jazz, blues and pop. It’s time­less,” he said.

“What’s also in­ter­est­ing about African mu­sic is the use of many mu­si­cal in­stru­ments that are not used else­where,” Li said. “These in­stru­ments pro­vide an in­valu­able link with lo­cal cul­ture and so­ci­ety.”

“In Africa, friends gather to­gether af­ter din­ner to sing and dance, as people in Bei­jing might go to cof­fee shops or cin­e­mas,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Li, people are still cu­ri­ous about African mu­sic. In Bei­jing and Shang­hai, there are stu­dios that teach African drum and dance.

Zhu Mingy­ing,

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