The undated picture shows famed Chinese musician Wu Man holding a pipa musical instrument. [Photo: agencies]
After starting her journey to master playing the pipa instrument at the age of 12, Wu Man now enjoys worldwide fame as a leading Pipa virtuoso and also as an ambassador of Chinese music.
The musician is trying to give her lute-like instrument a new interpretation in contemporary music through numerous concert tours.
One of her national tours is titled "Borderland: Wu Man and Master Musicians from Silk Routes" and scheduled to start in mid-May. Ahead of her upcoming concert, Wu Man took an exclusive interview with CRI.
Shen Ting has the details.
Wu Man is an inheritress of the Pudong School of pipa, one of the most prestigious classical playing styles of pipa in the imperial dynasties in China.
She is a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and also the first recipient of a master's degree in the pipa. She decided to leave China for the United States in 1990.
From then on, she embarked on a path to create international public awareness for pipa. She recalled her very first endeavors.
"China still has a long way to go in making itself known to the western world. When westerners think of China, they usually think of the famous Kung Fu movie star Bruce Lee. I had a very difficult beginning giving performances in schools, churches, residential communities, and senior care centers. My audiences were at the grass-roots level. These opportunities made me realise that the audience wanted to learn more about China."
Wu Man has found a way to raise awareness of the pipa ¡ª sometimes called the Chinese lute, via cross-cultural collaborations. Then she arranged numerous concert tours and more importantly, she would never say "no" to a suggestion regarding joint improvisation with western musicians.
Her cross-cultural collaborations have resulted in the pipa finding a new and exciting place, at first in jazz music, as the musician herself explains:
"A foreign musician came to meet me backstage and said that my pipa is a very cool musical instrument. He introduced himself as a saxphone player and inquired about the possibility of doing a stage performance together in a club. I felt pleasantly surprised because I knew little about Jazz back then. That kicked off my very first endeavor about 20 years ago of applying the pipa to western style music. Even though we were playing western music, I always tried to implement the pipa's characteristics including its aesthetic value in these joint performances."
The growing international popularity of this pear-shaped lute should be attributed to the dynamic and inventive virtuoso Wu Man.
But Wu Man hasn't stopped yet. And she continues to spread an understanding of what the pipa can do via solo shows and collaborations. Her May concert, another cutting edge event, would see her collaboration again with some master musicians from Silk-road countries.
"The concert would last for about an hour and a half. It may present Tajikistan's traditional music culture, Kyrgyz's folk songs as well as Chinese folk melodies. And the last part would be joint performances of these three styles of music. Every one of us would take turns taking a solo, in the hope of enabling listeners to recognise the pure beauty of each instrument."
In addition to Beijing, she, along with musicians from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Italy, would travel to a dozen Chinese cities for the same concert, named "Borderland: Wu Man and Master Musicians from Silk Routes".
Wu Man explains the etymology of the concert's name.
"I named the concert: Border, a place which features rich and dynamic borderland cultures. I would be joined by a few musicians from other nations, which is also a form of cross-cultural collaboration. Pipa originated from central Asia. Through this concert, we want to explore the origins of these countries' music."
The upcoming concert is part of a project launched 15 years ago that highlights Wu Man's cooperation with Central Asian musicians. She intended to find the similarities of other music traditions, therefore broadening the musical horizons of Wu Man and her audiences.
For CRI, I'm Shen Ting.