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Wu Man, master of the short-necked lute called the ‘pipa,’ and connoisseur of traditional Central Asian music, was given to opportunity by Smithsonian/Folkways to explore the connection between Chinese and Central Asian music by collecting virtuoso musicians from the Uyghur Autonomous Region to create new contemporary music while maintaining a sound that links back to their cultural heritage. The people of the area would periodically fight deep into China, and were viewed as exotic and feared, but they were essential as the gateway for the cultural and commercial riches coming from the west and central Asia itself.
As a concourse for culture and music, new instruments were arriving in China; the pipa arrived some 1,500 years ago and by the 8th century was assimilated into the Tang Empire’s court music tradition. In the same sense, Wu Man absorbs traditional sounds and contemporary ones, “I often imagined what it would be like if I played Uyghur classical muqam and Ili folk songs on my pipa?”
The album is very diverse, starting with an improvisation and then going into “Chebiyat,” the second in the Uyghur Twelve Muqam traditional, which sounds like an Indian raga. Third is the nine-beat rhythm “Song for the Kurds,” which Sanubar Tursen says may have roots in northwest Iran, and it definitely has that flavor, with lyrics about fruitful homelands. Four and six are ??two of Sanubar’s orginals, and seven is the first song of the Uyghur Maqam, which is usually sung, but here it is solo diltar by Abdulla Majnun. Wu Man changes the tuning on her pipa for the “Kazakh Song” to imitate the sound of the dombyra. Lots of good stuff on here, check out the KILLER liner notes for the full run-down.
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