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Chinese village ensemble rocks stages in US with pipa virtuoso

China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-24 15:26

Wu Man, pipa virtuoso and Grammy Award-nominated musician.[Photo by Sun Nan/For China Daily]

With their wild energetic style music that was centuries old, a farmers ensemble from Northwest China has delivered one surprising moment after another to audiences along the way of their ongoing US tour.

Led by pipa virtuoso Wu Man, the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, which comprises eight farmers from Huayin county, Shaanxi province, showcased a little known Chinese folk music called Lao Qiang, which is roughly translatable as "old tune", at the New York Society for Ethical Culture last Saturday evening.

New York City was the 10th stop of the group's 12-city, cross-country tour of the US, running through March 25.

Wood bench as percussion instrumental

From the moment the band took the stage with vigorous and boastful cry of Zhang Ximin, a senior artist of Lao Qiang, the eight predominantly elderly men were never less than 100 percent committed to raising the roof with their singing, and sometimes raucously shouting, at the top of their lungs.

"It's really an exciting thing!" Robert Martin, director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, New York, told Xinhua after the show. "The passion, the energy of their music is amazing."

Theodore Levin, professor of music at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, agreed.

"It's very sophisticated, it got rock power, they are masters," Levin said. "That (wood) bench is unique, it involves a lot of expertise."

Levin referred to the unique percussion instrument - a long bench pounded by a band member with a wooden block.

The bench, which was brought here all the way from the farmer's home, was among a variety of Chinese folk music instruments like yueqin (a banjo like instrument with four-strings), erhu, lute and fiddle the band uses to tell lively stories of rural life in sounds rarely heard in the West.

Lao Qiang is lauded as the ancient Rock 'n' Roll of the East, comprised of energetic folk music that has roots of over 2,000 years. It features high pitch singing, accompanied by a band of traditional Chinese instruments in dynamic rhythms and beats. Traditionally, Lao Qiang musicians would accompany a puppeteer, who would tell stories from behind the screen.

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