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Why Old Folk And New Jazz Go Hand in Hand

Traditional Chinese folk songs and Western jazz both have their ardent fans in today's Beijing, yet it is questionable whether a concert combining these two very different genres will be successful. The answer will be disclosed at the "Hand in hand Jazz & Ballad" concert by a group of folk singers and the Celtis Big Band from Germany on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Haidian Theatre of Beijing.

"Free interpretation and improvisation characterize both Chinese folk songs and Western jazz," said Li Yarong, producer of the concert. "We hope to create an opportunity for Chinese folk singers to explore possible fusion with world music."

The Celtis Big Band is conducted by Bernhard Kimmel and featuring 18-year-old singer Meri Voskannian, the 26-piece Celtis Big Band will play jazz tunes flavoured with soul, rock, Latin, pop and fusion sounds. Tracks include "You Might Need Somebody," "Porscha" and "One Moment in Time." For this concert they will also perform two works adapted from Chinese folk songs: "Jasmin Flower" and "Lan Huahua."

On the Chinese side, participants are some folk singers who mostly come from the Yellow River basin: Abao, Shi Zhanming and Taoge from Shanxi, Xiangzi and Nami from Inner Mongolia, Dorje from Qinghai, Erni from Shaanxi and "Local Accent Brothers" group from Henan.

They will sing songs from their home areas, which are all rich in folk music resources. Some of the Chinese program are "Ninty-nine Bends of the Yellow River," "The Red Peachflower and the White Plumflower" and "Black Horse." Abao and Shi Zhanming, who have both won national singing competitions, are the two best-known singers in the line-up. Abao will appear in the first concert and Shi in the second. Besides their own repertoire, they will both sing the theme song of German film "Heintje the Sun Is Sure to Shine Again" in duet with Celtis Big Band's lead singer Voskannian.

Li has been working on collecting, documenting and presenting traditional Chinese music for 10 years. Projects by her studio called "Original Sound of the Yellow River" include "Concert of Top Ten Chinese Folk Singers" and "Concert of Ancient Chinese Musical Epic by 100 Farmers."

Producer Li believed that traditional Chinese folk music could cross boundaries and have a place on the international stage. The "Hand in hand Jazz & Ballad" concert is an effort towards this direction.

"The old-generation folk singers are mostly poorly-educated and they sing mostly about the bitterness of lives, while the young-generation folk singers have better education and wish for lives different from their fathers," said Li. "These more open-minded farmer singers should have opportunities to show their talents at bigger stages."

Abao, 32, is one of the best-known young folk singers in China. Besides singing with the accompaniment of Chinese instruments, he has also performed with symphony orchestras. In his second album, released in March, he adopted electronic instruments.

"Although I'm not sure about my future direction, I believe folk music should not stick to the old form," said Abao. "Life is changing. If folk music doesn't change it will walk into a dead end."

(China Daily September 18, 2006)

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