Folk Music Of China Vol.20: Folk Songs of the Hui, Manchu, Xibe, Korean & Gin Peoples
Naxos World (www.naxos.com)
Review by Andrew Cronshaw
Here's the final volume in the Folk Music Of China series, the first six of which were reviewed in Rootsworld in May of 2020.
The fact that this huge country has a central government often makes it appear that there is such a thing as “Chinese music,” and what’s usually heard is the highly organized, highly skilled instrumental and vocal music of the conservatoire, concert hall or opera, rather than the music of the villages and towns of the many disparate peoples within the political unit of China. This series does a great deal to open up an awareness of the variety to be found among those peoples, and the booklet notes are an essential guide to what we’re listening to.
Despite the overall title, as the individual CD titles indicate all twenty are collections of folk songs and singing, much of it unaccompanied solo, duet or ensemble, with instruments only occasionally making an appearance. In this volume, though, a variety of instruments does feature, in the music of the Manchu, Xibe, Korean and Gin people.
"A banquet song" (Hui)
The eight tracks of Hui music are all unaccompanied, sung either solo or with other female singers by the strong-voiced Luo Wenying. and all in the pentatonic scale, which prevails in most, but not all, of the music on this volume and indeed in much, but not all, of the musics of China.
"Pray for Divinity" (Manchu)
The Manchu songs, also pentatonic, are delivered by a variety of male and female singers and are of gods, war, and drinking, and a lullaby from what sounds like a school of children. One of the two versions of the same ‘prayer for divinity’ is punctuated by the triple beats on drum and jingles of shamanic music.
"Zha Hei Zhu Hei (Xibe)"
"A wedding ritual song" (Xibe)
The Xibe songs are rather different. Particularly striking are the two shaman songs, featuring wild performances from guttural-voiced male singer Gu Yulin. The majority of the rest are from female singers accompanied by the feite kena, a four-stringed lute with a gutty, short-sustain sound and a note-re-iterating tremolo technique. There’s also an instrumental solo of dance music played on a two-stringed fretless lute with an appealing percussive style, the dongbur, from which the feite kena was developed in the 1980s.
There are Koreans in China, too. The recordings here were made in Tumen, in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, which borders on North Korea. The accompaniment to the mixed vocal ensembles here consists of the changgo two-headed drum and danso and tungso notch-flutes, and there are two instrumentals from a solo tungso and a flutes and drum ensemble.
"Asking the Moon" (Gin)
The zooming, very attractively vocal-sounding duxianqin, a single-string instrument with a whammy bar, played by touching harmonics along the string while stretching or slackening it, is more or less the same as the Vietnamese dan-bau. It features, accompanying female voices, in most of the tracks from the Gin people, a small population in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on China’s border with north-east Vietnam, and the album ends with a solo from its player here, Su Chunfa.