Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Silk Road. A Musical Caravan - Various Artists

The Silk Road. A Musical Caravan is a production of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. As its name indicates, it presents traditional music from Japan to Turkey. The 2 CDs are just awesome. But I will copy the words of Yo-Yo Ma, artistic director of the Silk Road Project, included in the booklet to provide you with a more comprehensive idea of what this is all about:

"My own journey along the Silk Road began back in college, when I took some anthropology courses and got hooked. In the yearse since, as I've traveled and played the cello with quite a few different kinds of 'bands', I've been struck by the way that diversity of cultural expression is so often the result of a reordering of the same basic elements.
As human culture-producers, we have much more that connects us than separates us, and of all the arts, music surely offers one of the most vital ways to feel the glow of connectedness,-to loved ones and friends, community and nation. But what about connecting to strangers, and to cultures we consider alien, impenetrable, or even uncivilized? Might we also better understand them by listening to their music? In doing so, might we come to see, hear, and ultimately trust them in a more intimate and human way_ My answer is a resounding 'yes.' If I'm familiar with your music, that's the beginning of a conversation, and now more than ever, we cannot afford not to know what other people are thinking and feeling-particularly in the vast and strategic regions of Inner Asia linked to the Silk Road.
These recordings offer a panoramic survey of music from nations and ethnic groups that have only recently entered the world many Americans: Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Uyghurs, Turkmens, Kazakhs, and Qaraqalpaks. Who knows where Khakasia is? The music of these places and peoples-as well as music from China, Japan, Armenia, and other Silk Road countries-tells an inspiring story about our common humanity.
Wile all of the music on these CDs represents authentic traditions rooted in the lives of communities, almost none of it is 'pure.' Look deeply enough into any tradition and you'll find elements of other traditions. Discovering what's shared, and what can be appropriated, refined, and restyled is the essential work of culture exchange and innovation. As a crucible for cultural intermingling, the lands of the Silk Road, then and now, offer an unparalleled vantage point from which to understand the flow of expressive culture. The music on these discs, traditional and contemporary, kindred and diverse, illustrates the dazzling, sometimes daring results of musicians along the Silk Road getting connected-to their roots, their neighbors, and at some usually anonymous moment, to strangers."

It is really tough to pick one song (also, most of them are not available online), but I guess I will go with "Jiu Kuang" ("Wine Mad"), a Chinese piece. This is the description included in the booklet:

"The guqin, a zither with seven silk strings, is the instrument par excellence of the learned Chinese in a tradition leading back to Confucius himself. Charged with symbolism, the guqin holds an almost sacred status in Chinese musical philosophy. Unlike most of the music in this compilation whise transmission has been exclusively through oral tradition, compositions for guqin have long been notated in a tablature for form in handbooks as well as orally transmitted from teacher to student. "Jiu Kuang" ("Wine Mad") disappeared from the orally transmitted repertory but was brilliantly reconstituted from a 15th-century handbook by one of the most eminent contemporary masters, the late Yao Bingyan (1920-1983) of Shanghai.Yao's interpretation features triple rhythm, which is otherwise unknown in guqin music. This particular triple rhythm expresses the lurching of a drunk person, and at the end of the piece, an ascending glissando humorously represents the sound of vomiting."

And here's -finally- the video:

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