(April 17, 2012) Wu Man, the internationally renowned virtuoso of the pipa, and Central Asian master musicians embark on an unprecedented collaboration that brings together Chinese classical, Uyghur, and Tajik tradition bearers on Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route, the tenth and final release in the Smithsonian Folkways and Aga Khan Music Initiative's "Music of Central Asia" CD/DVD series released on May 29.
On Borderlands, the artists explore the music from the Chinese borderlands of the Silk Route, a four thousand mile passage that for two millennia has connected regions stretching north and west from the Great Wall of China to the Mediterranean Sea.
Joining the Chinese-born, US-based Wu Man are Abduvali Abdurashidov (sato-tanbur) and Sirojiddin Juraev (dutar) from Tajikistan, Ma Ersa (vocals) from the Gansu province of China, and Abdulla Majnun (diltar, dutar, tambur), Hesenjan Tursun (satar), Sanubar Tursun (dutar), and Yasin Yaqup (dap) from Xinjiang, the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
The new recording follows previous musical ventures by Wu Man that have seen her seek out little-known music tradition-bearers in far-flung regions of China and bring them to the attention of audiences in the west, most notably at concerts held at, and presented by, Carnegie Hall in 2009 as part of the Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival. She has also visited Central Asia and performed with Central Asian musicians in several earlier projects sponsored by the Aga Khan Music Initiative.
"These collaborations on Borderlands made my musical fantasy come true," says Wu Man. "I often imagined what it would be like if the pipa were mixed with instruments such as satar, tambur and dutar. I was born in an urban city, Hong Zhou, in the east of China and the Islamic culture of the western part of China always fascinated me. As a little girl, I learned to sing many Uyghur songs that had been translated into Chinese, and to me they always sounded mysterious and very charming."
Wu Man says the collaboration also meant connecting with and acknowledging the roots of her instrument: "What is known in China as the pipa is one of the Central Asian instruments introduced to China through the Silk Route of the Uyghur region. As a musician from China, I would be embarrassed if I did not make the effort to know Uyghur music and to work closely with master musicians from Xinjing."
The results - newly arranged traditional songs and original improvisations - blend sounds from historically kindred musical worlds. The CD/DVD package includes a documentary film about the region, the musicians, and the recording process as well as an instrument glossary and detailed liner notes.
On Borderlands, Wu Man and her pipa are guided by the Central Asian master musicians, learning about their musical traditions and techniques and then finding a way to bring the pipa into the music without compromising the integrity of the original pieces. The result is a mixture of newly arranged traditional songs and instrumental pieces, original improvisations and solo performances of local classics.
The DVD component of Borderlands captures the process of improvisation between Wu Man and the Central Asian master musicians and their joy as the musical voices are blended and traditions shared. For singer Sanubar Tursun, the experience of having Uyghur songs at the core of the project was unique. Previously, when she has worked with other musicians, she has had to adapt to their traditions. The film footage also captures the emotion felt by Abdulla Majnun who is an expert in the Uyghar Twelve Muqam, the national oral epic pieces of the Uyghar people. This classical repertoire developed over thousands of years which takes its name from the Arabic term, maqam, is generally performed within strictly adhered to traditional style. Within the more flexible environment of the Borderlands project and the spirit of improvisation, Abdulla and Wu Man rediscover the elation of making music from the heart.
Wu Man met with the musicians and recorded Borderlands during two trips. The first was to Beijing, China in December 2010 where she first met with Abdulla Majnun and Sanubar Tursun. They rehearsed in the courtyard and gardens of a former monastery that is now a hotel and were joined at the second session by Sanubar's younger brother, Hesenjan. Wu Man's encounter with Tajik musicians Abduvali Abdurashidov and Sirojiddin Juraev took place in Paris in 2011 where all three were scheduled to perform at the Théâtre de la Ville as part of a concert series co-curated by the Aga Khan Music Initiative. The three worked together just hours before taking the stage to perform together, discovering an instant connection that led to improvisations based on the style of Tajik Shashmaqom. The Borderlands release features extensive liner notes about each of the tracks and their origins.
Meanwhile, since she recorded Borderlands, Wu Man has continued to embark on projects that blend traditional music with improvisation. On March 24 she gave a sold-out and widely acclaimed performance entitled "Wu Man & Aboriginal Friends" at the Taiwan International Festival of the Arts featuring Taiwanese aboriginal musicians including soprano Mewas Lin from the Atayal tribe, men from the Bunun tribe, the first-ever public performance by female nose flute master Sauniaw from the Paiwan tribe and a much-celebrated performance by the Tai Wu Elementary School Chorus, also from the Paiwan tribe. On May 31 and June 1st she takes on a major acting role in a new multi-cultural theatrical project by acclaimed Singapore director, Ong Keng Sen. This project called Lear Dreaming, is a musical re-imagining of Shakespeare's King Lear that will be premiered at the Singapore International Arts Festival. Wu Man has worked with Ong Keng Sen on creating pipa music that tells this story. Sometimes this is the pipa's voice alone, at other times she is joined by musicians from Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. Wu Man plays the role of the Eldest Daughter.
Born in China, Wu Man was trained at Beijing's Central Conservatory and has lived in the United States since 1990. Her groundbreaking musical work with the pipa (a pear-shaped, lute-like instrument dating back to the seventh century) has led to starring roles in pieces by contemporary composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Lou Harrison and Evan Ziporyn performed by the world's leading orchestras and ensembles, including her frequent performing and composing collaborators, the Kronos Quartet, with whom she created the multimedia work, A Chinese Home. Her most recent solo recording, Immeasurable Light was released in 2010 on Traditional Crossroads, and also saw her look back to her instrument's roots, combining reconstructed ancient pipa melodies with her own contemporary compositions.
Wu Man plans to continue to expand her musical and geographical horizons with further "Wu Man & Friends" and "Wu Man & Aboriginal Friends" concerts internationally and is continually seeking opportunities to share her discoveries through master classes, lectures and with screenings of her self-produced film, Discovering a Musical Heartland: Wu Man's Return to China.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION & LINKS ABOUT THE BORDERLANDS RELEASE
Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route Tracks:
About the Music of Central Asia Series
The groundbreaking "Music of Central Asia" series began in 2006 with Vols. 1-3, followed with Vols. 4-6 in 2007 and Vols. 7-9 in 2010. The ongoing partnership between Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia seeks to revitalize and assure the onward transmission of musical traditions in regions where they are endangered, and to cultivate the creative processes that lead to artistic innovation and evolution.
"Music of Central Asia" is a co-production of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Aga Khan Music Initiative, a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Each disc features a full-color booklet with extensive liner notes, an instrument glossary and a DVD with a documentary film about the music and performers.
The "Music of Central Asia" series is co-produced and curated by Dr. Theodore Levin, an ethnomusicologist on the faculty of Dartmouth College and Fairouz Nishanova, Director of the Aga Khan Music Initiative. Levin earned the 2011 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for the liner notes to volumes 7, 8 and 9.
Both "Music of Central Asia Vol. 8: Rainbow" and "Music of Central Asia Vol. 9: In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters from the Lands of the Mughals" won Independent Music Awards for Best Music Video, Long Form and Best World Traditional Song, respectively. Production and liner notes for Volume 10 were conceived in consultation with ethnomusicologist Dr. Rachel Harris, department head of the music faculty at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
About Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States, dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among peoples through the documentation, preservation, and dissemination of sound.
Through the dissemination of audio recordings and educational materials, Smithsonian Folkways seeks to strengthen people's engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others. This mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document "people's music," spoken word, instruction, and sounds from around the world.
The Smithsonian acquired Folkways from the Asch estate in 1987, and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has continued the Folkways commitment to cultural diversity, education, increased understanding, and lively engagement with the world of sound.
About the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI)
The Aga Khan Music Initiative is an interregional music and arts education program with worldwide performance, outreach, mentoring, and artistic production activities. The Initiative was launched by His Highness the Aga Khan to support talented musicians and music educators working to preserve, transmit, and further develop their musical heritage in contemporary forms. Music Initiative began its work in Central Asia, subsequently expanding its cultural development activities to include artistic communities and audiences in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. AKMI designs and implements a country-specific set of activities for each country into which it invests and works to promote revitalization of cultural heritage both as a source of livelihood for musicians and as a means to strengthen pluralism in nations where it is challenged by social, political, and economic constraints.
Learn more at http://www.akdn.org/music
Both Smithsonian Folkways and The Aga Khan Music Initiative are committed to both preserving these traditions and protecting the livelihoods of the musicians who maintain these traditions, while honouring their communities and celebrating cultural pluralism.
Music of Central Asia (list of titles):
Vol. 1: Tengir-Too: Mountain Music from Kyrgyzstan, 2006.
Vol. 2: Invisible Face of the Beloved: Classical Music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks, 2006. (2006 GRAMMY Nominee).
Vol. 3: Homayun Sakhi: The Art of the Afghan Rubab, 2006.
Vol. 4: Bardic Divas: Women's Voices in Central Asia, 2007.
Vol. 5: The Badakhshan Ensemble: Song and Dance from the Pamir Mountains, 2007.
Vol. 6: Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan, 2007.
Vol. 7: In the Shrine of the Heart: Popular Classics from Bukhara and Beyond, 2010.
Vol. 8: Rainbow: Kronos Quartet with Alim & Fargana Qasimov and Homayun Sakhi, 2010. (Independent Music Award, Best Word Traditional Song)
Vol. 9: In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters from the Lands of the Mughals, 2010. (Independent Music Award, Best Music Video, Long Form)
Vol. 10: Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route
NOTE: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings retail distribution is through ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) at 800.239.3232. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings releases are available through record and book outlets. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, as well as the original Folkways, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Monitor, Paredon, Collector and Fast Folk collections, are available via mail order at 1.888.FOLKWAYS or 800.410.9815 and via the Internet. Visit the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website at
For more information and to request review copies of Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route please contact Chris Taillie (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Matt Hanks (email@example.com) at Shore Fire Media, 718-522-7171
For more information about Wu Man, or to request an interview with her please contact Shuman Associates, (firstname.lastname@example.org), 212-315-1300.