Music injects vitality into remote village
It is rare to see foreigners playing Chinese folk music in a remote village in the country, but a five-member Ukrainian band has become popular in a village in Hebei province. Zhouwo village is located in Wuqiang, a statelevel impoverished county.
The five Ukrainian musicians arrived in November, at the invitation of an art school, to teach local residents to play musical instruments. They work part-time playing in a village coffee shop.
Bogdan Kozub, 25, plays saxophone and is the youngest member of the band. He grew up in Odessa, one of the largest cities in Ukraine, where he began learning to play the saxophone at age 10. This is the first time he has visited a rural area of China and the village and its residents surprised him.
“Almost everyone in the village plays Western instruments, which I have not seen in my country,” Kozub said. “It is marvelous that Western musical culture can integrate into Chinese culture so well.”
Guo Yuguan was among the coffee shop audience, the majority of whom are local residents. They often talk with the Ukrainian visitors about how to play instruments after the band has completed its performance.
Although they don’t speak each other’s language, they use translation apps to facilitate communication.
The band sometimes plays Chinese music, such as the traditional folk song Jasmine or the pop song A Woman’s Heart, while villagers sometimes play the wellknown Russian folk song Katyusha.
Here in the village, music is the common language.
“The villagers are talented, but they lack formal education. I am really touched that all of them love music from their hearts. I would like to teach them,” Kozub said.
In contrast to many impoverished villages, Zhouwo has a memorial hall for English musician John Lennon, guitar factories, coffee shops and pubs. The buildings have also been refurbished with both Chinese and Western characteristics.
“This is the musical utopia that I have been searching for. It is a great source of inspiration for my creativity,” Kozub said.
The fate of the village, as well as the county, has changed as an increasing number of musical instrument manufacturers have opened factories there over the past 20 years.
Jinyin Group is one of the most successful companies. It produces more than 800,000 instruments every year, including guitars, violins, clarinets, and saxophones. More than 85 percent of its stock is exported to more than 30 countries and regions around the world.
The group has developed into one of the largest orchestral instrument manufacturers in China. Wuqiang county is now a major production base for orchestral instruments, with more than 50 manufacturing plants, employing 20,000 workers.
Most staff are villagers from the county or nearby areas. They learn to play instruments in their spare time.
Guo was a farmer before she secured a job at Jinyin nearly 20 years ago. Since retiring, she spends a lot of time practicing the saxophone.
“In the past, we used to chat and play mahjong during slow farming seasons. Now we talk about music and instruments every day. I am able to learn a new song in just 10 days,” she said.
“The factories not only bring jobs for farmers, but also enhance their spiritual lives. Since music entered their lives, folk customs in the county have become more harmonious,” said Zhou Guangting, Party secretary of the village.
The report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China stressed the implementation of rural revitalization strategy and poverty alleviation across the country. Wuqiang county has seized the opportunity and leads the way.
As well as its prosperous musical instrument manufacturing industry, the village has been making efforts to develop itself into a tourist attraction. Visitors, as well as entrepreneurs, from around China and the world have been attracted.
Han Qiang, 47, who previously was a migrant worker, has now returned to his hometown. He gave up his original career in house renovation to run a music studio in the village. Many children come to his studio to learn to play musical instruments.
“Music has injected vitality into the village. My whole life has been completely changed,” Han said.
From top: A band performs in a street in Zhouwo village in Wuqiang county, Hebei province, during a music festival. A foreign musician plays clarinet at a cafe in the village.