One of the thrills of my CD review stack is that I often don’t know what musical adventure I’m about to take. This week’s thrill would have to be the wild ride of SIU2’s Sonic Traveler out on the Flower Music label. Based in Hong Kong SIU2 is one of those creative inventions that proves potent not just for their inventiveness but through their own musical skills.
On the surface, Sonic Traveler might come across as quirky, playful and flirty, but a skillfully crafted musical meld of East and West emerges and the smart, savvy musicals skills make the journey worth while. Need a little quirky, need some international getaway music for your ride into work or just want to take a musical tumble into a dramatic, jazzy, rocking slice of fusion? Then look no further than Sonic Traveler.
From the jump, Sonic Traveler defies any preconceived expectations. Crafting a fusion sound by way of composer, sheng player and electric organist Ng Cheuk Yin, zheng player Jason Lau, sanxian player Cass Lam, pianist Peter Fan, bass guitarist Siuming Chan and drummer Lawrence Tsui, Sonic Traveler propels listeners on a raucous roller coast of a ride that’s part high octane jazz, part quirky movie chase music, part hard driving rock all threaded through with Asian sensibilities. With two previous recordings, Open Door (2008) and KonFusion (2010), including a part of Open Door as part of a movie soundtrack, under their belts, SIU2 determinedly puts their own stamp on East/West musical fusion.
SIU2 launches the journey with the frenetic title track “Sonic Traveler,” a bold, jazzy melange of piano, crashing drums, organ and bass with flashes of zheng, sheng and sanxian. Sonic Traveler is a clever walk on the wild side of East meets West with the addition of the zippy zany turns of “Lights Up” and the hard rocking edged “Haunted House.”
“Gondola” proves to be a lovely respite in the frenetic groove, with its elegant piano and sanxian lines, as does the extraordinarily dreamy solo piano piece “Icy Night.”
“Drifting Ice” is just as exotically drawn as if possessed by a kind of musical anticipation threaded through with some wonderful chunky bass and the occasional rhythm driven outburst.
Sonic Traveler closes with “Gliding” that rides high on a “Mission Impossible” theme that runs through the track. It’s quirky and fun.
Mengmeng Wu was born in Huaxi village, Jiangsu, southeast China. She learned the guzheng from the age of six and her talent was noticed during her first stage performance at the age of ten.
In 2002, she enrolled in the Affiliated High School of the China Conservatory of Music, where she studied the guzheng for 6 years with distinguished experts Professor Ji Wei. In 2008, she trained for another 4 years at the Central Conservatory of Music, China under Professor Ji Wei and celebrated guzheng Master Professor Li Meng, where she graduated with a BMMus in guzheng performance. In the University, Miss WU participated in premieres of Guzheng quatet “One Thousand Kilometers Way to Go”, written by Professor LI Meng and Guzheng trio “Spirit of Zheng”, written by Malaysian composer Zhao Junyi. Moreover, she was frequently invited to perform for Music Channel of CCTV. She won the Gold Prize for Guzheng Solo in the 4th Zhong Sin International Music Competition in 2010 and a Gold Award for guzheng solo in the 1st Huain Cup International Chinese Music Competition in 2012.
Since relocating to London in 2014, Mengmeng has performed at a wide range of venues including SOAS, University of London, Blackheath Hall with the Trinity Laban Orchestra, the Manchester International Festival (2015) with Damon Albarn, the Lake District Summer Music International Festival.
Mengmeng is an open-minded artist who enjoys experimenting with new music and fusion music, such as collaborative works of electronic music and Guzheng, trying to adapt LiberTango, using Chinese and Western musical instruments (guzheng, pipa and accordion) to interpret the work.
At the beginning of 2017, Mengmeng set up a music studio CCIS Chinese Classical Instruments Studio in the UK.
The Art of the Chinese Guzheng is a set of solo performances
by award-winning Chinese instrumentalist Wu Mengmeng. The ghuzeng is also known
as zheng or qin zheng. It’s a harp or zither that has been used for over 2500
and is one of the most recognizable Chinese musical instruments.
Wu Mengmeng is a master guzheng player and she delivers a
beautiful, exquisite set of instrumental tracks rooted in Chinese folk, theater
and Buddhist traditions.
The CD booklet includes liner notes in English, simplified Chinese
and Traditional Chinese.
Canadian artist George Sapounidis, better known as Chairman George, has a new album titled Bringing to Greek Party to China! It’s a ground-breaking recording that combines traditional Greek and Chinese music, Mandarin Chinese vocals, rock and infectious electronic dance grooves.
In terms of musical instruments, Bringing to Greek Party to China! connects Greek bouzouki and Chinese pipa and guzheng. The music video for the irresistible song “Golden Night” is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch.
Chairman George talked to World Music Central in September 2018 about his background and Bringing to Greek Party to China.
Can you give our readers a brief history on how you started singing and composing music?
I began taking guitar lessons in Montreal in 1968 and learning folksongs by different artists from the Joan Baez Songbook. Then when we moved to Greece in 1970 my mother found me a classical guitar teacher in Athens (a Greek protégé of the Spanish virtuoso Andrés Segovia no less) and in my teens I continued to take lessons and perform classical repertoire. At the same time since we were living a bohemian lifestyle in Greece I was meeting troubadours and buskers on the Greek islands which further inspired me to sing and perform publicly.
In university in Montreal and later in Toronto I met singers from different cultures so I began singing in Hebrew, Russian and Spanish. I took a delight in singing multilingually. In the 1980’s when the famine in Ethiopia happened I wrote a song and discovered a joy and ability in songwriting.
In 1988 I began learning the Greek bouzouki after listening and feeling impassioned by the Greek blues the Rembetika. I travelled to Greece with a musical partner and we started my first band Ouzo Power which performed at Canadian music festivals.
In the 1990’s, after finishing my PhD in statistics in Toronto and working as a folksinger extensively in Greektown, I returned to Ottawa where I had a day job in the federal government and I met a woman from Beijing who inspired me to learn to sing a traditional folksong in Mandarin Chinese. This was followed by challenging myself to write songs in Chinese. This is when my music career took a radical new direction towards Asia.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
The essential elements of my music consist of sung vocals in different languages, translation of lyrics, and proficiency on the Greek bouzouki and acoustic guitar. This includes the incorporation of an eclectic array of cross cultural musical styles. I engage audiences on stage using humor while unraveling some of the mysteries of Greek and Chinese culture and language through music.
Whom can you cite as your main musical influences?
Theodore Bikel, David Wilcox, Danny Michel.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
My first full album on cassette consisted of duo interpretations of Greek Rembetika with the use of mandolin instead of bouzouki and translating Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin into Greek. The second EP consisted of standard Greek popular repertoire using larger ensembles incorporating African Senegalese rhythms. I then began dabbling in different languages and made a demo recording of songs in Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, Chinese and Greek.
When I performed my first Chinese song at the local Chinese New Year Gala in 1998 the roof fell in when the audience was applauding every 15 seconds. I realized I had discovered a vast new audience, endless musical possibilities within a new culture and my innate facility with languages.
In 2000, I gave my first major concert in Greek and Chinese in Ottawa where I invited the Greek and Chinese Embassies. Subsequently, I received an invitation from the Chinese Embassy to travel to China to perform at two international festivals. It was at this point that my music career took a radical new direction towards Asia.
My 2005 album consisted of exclusively Greek and Chinese traditional, popular and original material followed by my 2008 album of Olympic themed songs and then my 2011 CD of experimental rock-infused Greek repertoire. The culmination of my Greek and Chinese influenced musical arc has culminated in the present album where we have fused both cultures by presenting re- worked standard Greek repertoire in Mandarin.
What musical instruments do you use?
I use the Greek bouzouki and acoustic guitar myself. In my band we also have Chinese pipa and guzheng as well as bass, electric guitar, drums and backup vocals.
Your new album features Chinese musicians, electronic dance music beats, Chinese vocals and Greek influences. How did you come up with this combination?
After many years performing Greek and Chinese repertoire side by side my producer Ross Murray and I decided in 2013 to go to the next step: a fusion of both. This had never been done. We chose 10 of the most well-known quintessential up tempo Greek popular songs with the intent of presenting Greek party songs to Chinese audiences, hence the album title.
I started translating these songs into Mandarin with the help of a translator while at the same time ensuring equal numbers of syllables in lines and incorporating rhyming. I developed bilingual vocals for these translated lyrics. We brought in Chinese instrumentalists we knew locally and my producer who is a recording engineer infused some of the renditions with electronic dance music beats.
What has been the reaction so far?
Chinese audiences in China are very surprised and interested in hearing Greek songs in Chinese. Greek people are astonished at hearing their own songs recreated in what seems to them to be an incomprehensible language. Greeks are proud to know that their music is being promoted in a vast new environment.
How did you meet the Chinese musicians?
I met the Chinese musicians in my home town of Ottawa, Canada. I already knew them well after years of performing in the local Chinese community.
You sing in Chinese, is it Mandarin? Do you speak Chinese or is it phonetic singing?
Yes I sing in Mandarin Chinese. I speak in Mandarin Chinese and comprehend fully all lyrics that I sing.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I would like to collaborate with English rock musician Peter Gabriel whom I have not met – however, more realistically I would like to collaborate with English rock musician and multi Grammy award winner Chris Birkett whom I have met.
What would the ideal Sunday look like?
Being on a quiet Greek island having a good swim in the sun all day with friends followed by Greek dinner in a taverna while listening to live Greek music performed by local musicians.
What would you like to learn?
I would like to learn how to cook properly in a Cordon Bleu school.
What is your favorite food?
Greek cuisine followed by Thai cuisine.
Favorite movie or movie genre?
If you weren’t a musician, what would you have become?
I would become what I in fact I already am: a mathematician with a PhD.
Your greatest triumph?
Being the subject of the award-winning W5 CTV / BBC international television documentary ‘Chairman George’ produced by EyeSteelFilm in Canada and directed by Daniel Cross a fellow Montrealer whom I met by chance on the other side of the world in China.
What do you like to do during your free time?
Swim laps and then meet friends for a home cooked meal.
What country would you like to visit?
Do you have any other upcoming projects to share with us?
We are creating new interpretations of Canadian popular and traditional repertoire in Chinese.
George From Athens To Beijing (2005)
Expect The World (2008)
Ouzo Power Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (2010)
Golden Night (2014)
Bringing to Greek Party to China! (2018)
On & Between is a remarkable encounter between western classical music and Chinese musical traditions. It is elegant and melodic music, combing piano and western chamber music instruments with pipa (an ancient Chinese lute) and Chinese folk music elements, plus one forgettable jazz piece.
The album is a reflection of the emotions experienced by an immigrant in a new country.
On & Between highlights the work of composer and pianist Zhen Chen and the exquisite, masterful performances of pipa player Lin Ma.
The other musicians who appear on the album include Cho-Liang Lin on violin; Elmira Darvarova on violin; David Geber on cello; Liang Wang on oboe; Howard Wall on French horn; Shenghua Hu on violin; Milan Milisavljevic on viola; Braxton Cook on saxophone; and Curtis Nowosad on drums.
Wu Man & Son de San Diego – Fingertip Carnival (Wind Music, 2018)
Acclaimed Chinese pipa player Wu Man enjoys musical journeys, collaborating with musicians from other cultures as a member of the Silk Road Ensemble and other projects. On Fingertip Carnival she collaborates with Son de San Diego, a son jarocho ensemble from San Diego in California.
Fingertip Carnival celebrates the plucked string traditions of China and Veracruz State in Mexico. The album includes six traditional son jarocho songs along with with two recreated Chinese songs.
Wu Man & Son de San Diego provide beautiful interactions between the pipa and the traditional Mexican guitars: the jarana, guitarra de son, leoncita (a larger version of guitarra de son) and punteador (a small guitar).
The musicians that appear on Fingertip Carnival include Wu Man on pipa; Eduardo García on guitarra de son, jarana segunda, panpipes, vocals; Chris Mena on leoncita, punteador and vocals; Germain Lita on jarana tercera and vocals; Verónica Pacheco on guitarra de son and zapateado; Cindy Cox on jarana segunda, vocals, zapateado; Cris Juárez on jarana mosquito, vocals and zapateado.
Fingertip Carnival is an extraordinary meeting of cultures that brings together the beautiful traditions of southeastern Mexico and China.
Three virtuoso Chinese musicians, performing traditional musical instruments, deliver a meditative set of musical from Beijing’s Zhi Hua Temple, constructed during the Ming dynasty in 1443.
Every temple has its specific style of music and ‘Chinese Buddhist Temple Music’ contains four tracks that incorporate court, Buddhist temple and folk music.
The three artists are Bao Jian, Jian Bing and Gao Hong. They recreate the temple music in a traditional form. Bao plays the guanzi, a reed instrument that resembles an oboe; Hu specializes in a vertical pipe, mouth blown instrument called sheng; and Gao performs on the pipa, the pear-shaped Chinese lute.
Chinese Buddhist Temple Music is a fascinating recording with masterful performances by three superb instrumentalists that open the door the music generated in Buddhist temples.
Zhou Jinyan is a talented yangqin player with a BMus honors degree from the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and is a former member of the prestigious Beijing Plucked Strings Ensemble. Zhou was a member of the Beijing Plucked Strings Ensemble between 2001 and 2004.
In 2003 she performed at the Beijing International Music Festival and recorded a series of music programs on National and Beijing Television.
Zhipeng Shen joined Liaoning Song & Dance Company in 1959. Because of his extraordinary musical talent, he was appointed as the “First Violinist” in the orchestra early in his career. As an adaptable player, he has mastered the erhu, gaohu and banhu. He took on further responsibility as the leader of the orchestra.
In recognition for his extraordinary contribution to Chinese traditional music, he was selected as a committee member of Chinese National Association of Musicians and an executive committee member of Chinese Folk &Traditional Music Research Center.
As part of the Chinese Culture Exchange Program, Mr. Shen was often invited to participate in the “State Department Tour” as soloist or “first violinist” in orchestra setting, and he played over 20 countries.
In addition to being an established performer, Mr. Shen has composed many traditional musical pieces, such as “Joy of Spring” and “Dreams of Sarlbu”, which became part of the classic repertoire. At the turn of this new millennium, Mr. Shen moved to the United States.
Xu Ke was born in 1960 in Nanjing, China. He received his B.M. in 1982 with honor from the Department of National Music at the Central Conservatory of Beijing, where he studied under the erhu master Mr. Yusong Lan. He was the principal Erhu player of the China National Traditional Orchestra in 1983.
In 1986, he toured the United States as the music director of a good-will Chinese music delegation. His solo debut performance in 1987 with the China National Traditional Orchestra in Beijing Concert Hall caused a great sensation in China, prompting the media to dub him a genius Erhu player.
Since 1987, he has been performing as a soloist with many orchestras throughout the world. The superb technique, deep understanding and! exciting interpretation of the erhu repertoire has earned Xu Ke an international following.
Xu Ke is the first erhu master in the world to record under the RCA label. he participated in the album Something ~ RCA Artists Meet The Beatles. He also received a platinum disc award from the Hong Kong recording industry in 1992.
Invited by Yo-Yo Ma, Mr. Xu participated in the Silk Road Project in July 2000 at the Tanglewood Music Center. Xu Ke joined with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble for an Asian tour to perform at Hong Kong Arts Festival, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei in March 2001. He was also the artistic director of Silk Road Music concert in the 17th Tokyo Summer Festival.
Xu Ke has released solo and ensemble albums, including classical music played by Erhu, Cello, Piano.
Maiden Mo Chou – A Fantasia (Pacific Audio/Video Co., 1988)
Song of the Birds (Sony Japan Family Club, 1997)
Sweetie (BMG Japan, 1999)
A String of Melodies (BMG Pacific, 1991)
The Yellow River/The Butterfly Lovers (BMG Pacific, 1992) Melodie Favorite Violin Showpieces Performed on Erhu (BMG Victor, 1992)
My Way rhu Favorite Collection (BMG Victor, 1994) Wind and Rhythm/Erhu Concertos (BMG Victor, 1994)
Zigeunerweisen-Erhu Classical Favorites (BMG Victor, 1996)
Elegy – Erhu Solo (BMG Victor, 1996)
Lullaby (BMG Japan, 1997)
Liebesfreud (BMG Japan, 1997)
Erhu Favorite Chinese Pieces (BMG Japan, 2001)
Erhu Favorite European Tunes (BMG Japan, 2001)
Horse Racing (XUA Records, 2003)
Liebesleid (XUA Records, 2004)
Think of Chinese Music of the New Era (XUA Records, 2004)
Xu Ke (XUA Records, 2005)
Preghiera (XUA Records, 2009)
Romance (XUA Records, 2009)
Le Rêve – Erhu Classical Favorites (XUA Records)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion