The second year of the World Music in Asia Initiative has seen World Culture Open, World Music Shanghai and Cambodian Living Arts bring world music festivities to the public in China, South Korea, and for the very first time, Cambodia from September to November 2017.
Over these months, all three countries were united in a series of world music festivals that are free and open to the public. The World Music in Asia Initiative is committed to providing space for cultural exchange through world music, where the public can enjoy admission free world music performances, workshops and other activities.
1. 2017 World Music Shanghai (China) – presented by World Music Shanghai
From September 23 to October 7, in the cities of Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing and Foshan in China, World Music Shanghai infused bustling urban spaces with world music performances and workshops, bringing audiences on a musical journey to over 25 regions across the globe.
Audiences were not only able to enjoy an eclectic line up of 24 performance acts, but were also able to have deeper engagement with the artists through educational and family-oriented workshops, all of which were free and open to the public.
With workshops and performances taking place both indoors and outdoors, it is clear from this festival that world music has the potential to fill any urban space with joy and excitement, bringing artists and audiences together for effective moments of musical sharing and creation.
2. REPfest (Cambodia) – presented by Cambodian Living Arts
REPfest was a festival of new traditional music; presenting creative works based on traditional forms from around the Mekong Region and elsewhere in Asia. From October 27-29, 2017, 44 artists from Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam gathered in Siem Reap for three days of performances, workshops, and in-depth conversations within REPfest Forum.
The festival’s intimate setting and focus on collaboration served as a very unique platform for participating artists to express themselves freely, explore shared heritage, and observe similarities and differences in each other’s musical traditions.
In its first edition, REPfest succeeded in building a strong base for meaningful creative exchange in the region, and provided some of the participating artists with their first opportunity to travel internationally. Less than two months later, artists who met at the festival have already set up new collaborations with each other in other countries.
The festival saw much enthusiasm from the audience too – over the three days almost 1000, mainly young and local people, took part in workshops and performances, and hopefully were left with new knowledge and inspiration.
3. Better Together 2017 (South Korea) – presented by World Culture Open
World music and artistic performances and workshops that celebrated peace, empathy and togetherness were presented from November 10-12 at Better Together 2017, a global gathering of creative changemakers at the revitalized Old Tobacco Factory in the city of Cheongju.
Free and open to the public, this festival invited everyone to enjoy performances by artists from around the world, and members of the public were also able to participate in various hands-on workshops and insightful talks and dialogue with artists during the day.
Without boundaries between audiences and artists, both were able to fully immerse in a journey of cultural discovery and engagement together.
World Culture Open and World Music Shanghai have joined forces with Cambodian Living Arts to bring world music performances to the public in China, South Korea, and for the very first time, Cambodia. From September 23 to November 11, a music carnival will unite all three countries in a series of world music festivals that are free and open to the public: World Music Shanghai in China, REPfest in Cambodia, and Better Together Concert in South Korea.
World Music Shanghai celebrates its 10th edition this year from September 23 to Oct 7, presenting world music experiences to audiences in Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing and Foshan cities through music sharing, creation, and beyond in public urban spaces.
With 24 acts and musicians from over 25 regions around the world, audiences will be able to enjoy a series of performances by eclectic artists such as Chinese pingtan singer and storyteller Gao Bowen, acoustic quartet DakhaBrakha from Ukraine, Somalian vocalist Sahra Halgan, Arabic music ensemble Tarabband from Sweden, and more. In addition to performances, the festival also offers experiential activities, where educational and family-oriented workshop that promise a fully immersive world music experience.
The festivities continue from October 27-29 in Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat and center for living heritage in Cambodia, in the form of REPfest; an international festival dedicated to World Music, drawing artists from around Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Japan for three days of performances, workshops and forums.
Developed and presented by local arts organization Cambodian Living Arts (CLA), with support from World Culture Open (WCO) and Mekong Cultural Hub (MCH), REPfest will focus on the Greater Mekong region’s “living heritage”; the art, culture, and everyday practices that shape people’s lives.
Artists of diverse styles and backgrounds from will gather to share their experiences and skills, and sow the seeds for future collaboration in the region. In addition to showcases and performances, there will also be workshops where artists can learn from each other and engage with the audience on a more personal level. The full lineup will be announced on September 27 and made available on Cambodian Living Arts’ website.
Song Seng, CLA’s Heritage Hub Manager, said “REPfest is a great chance to bring together artists and audiences from the Mekong region, so people can get to know each other, explore our shared heritage, and continue our stories together. Siem Reap’s temples, its status as the birthplace of Cambodian culture remind us of the thread between generations – our music, arts and culture came from generations past, and now it’s the role of artists today to build on this, create new work, and keep our culture alive and relevant for future generations.”
Besides China and Cambodia, audiences in Korea too will enjoy access to world music performances this fall. Inspired by the success of the Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in Jeju last October, World Culture Open is bringing another world music delight to Korea this year: Better Together Concert.
As part of World Culture Open 2017, a creative gathering of global changemakers, the Better Together Concert will be held on November 10-12 at the revitalized Old Tobacco Factory in the historic city of Cheongju.
Dedicated at large to the theme of empathy, Better Together Concert will present music and artistic performances that celebrate cultural diversity and togetherness. Artists that will be taking audiences into a creative wonderland together include prominent Rwandan singer-songwriter Jean Paul Samputu, Israeli acoustic band Gulaza specializing in Yemenite Women Songs, and the world-renowned U.S. vertical ballet troupe Bandaloop.
“It truly is an exciting collaboration. We have grown from two countries last year to three Asian nations today, and we look forward to having more countries and regions join in, and inspiring more international collaborations in the years to come,” says Kseniya Tsoy, from Connect&Collaborate at World Culture Open. “We hope the festivals will allow more and more people to connect with themselves and with one another, as music truly is humanity’s common language, connecting us beyond borders and spoken languages. Aesthetically beautiful and socially interactive, music is one of the most engaging and accessible ways to connect to our shared humanity, and such an amazing way to learn about new cultures.”
All three events are non-profit initiatives free and open to the public, and are committed to providing space for cultural exchange through music. The partners endeavor to grow this joint initiative into one of monumental influence in Asia, where the public can enjoy free and open access to world music performances and workshops, and audiences and musicians alike can discover new cultures in an engaging and enriching journey together.
As part of our interview focusing on the world music scene in East Asia, we interviewed Yang Guanglei, President and Artistic Director of World Music Shanghai. The Chinese music festival has a partnership with World Culture Open that led to a collaborating with Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in South Korea.
What is the World Music Shanghai festival?
World Music Shanghai’s beginnings stem from the 2008 “Songs for World Expo— Shanghai World Music Week”, which was sponsored by the Shanghai World Expo Bureau. After producing numerous world music performances for World Expos and for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, “Shanghai World Music Week” was officially brought into the National China Music Industry Park’s platform collaboration project in 2012 and we became “World Music Shanghai”, with our main purpose focused on promoting multiculturalism, on demonstrating to cities that life is better and more enriched with the preservation of diversity in our cultural and natural ecosystems, and on listening to different and harmonious voices of our world.
To date, World Music Shanghai has welcomed its 9th edition and has invited nearly 130 artists from more than 100 countries over all these years. We have become China’s largest, longest-running and most renowned world music themed music festival.
It looks like the World Music Shanghai festival takes place in various cities, in addition to Shanghai. Which are the other locations?
This year, due to our partnership with China Xintiandi, we brought the festival to Xintiandi’s urban venues not only in Shanghai, but also in other cities in China for the first time, which were Wuhan, Chongqing and Foshan. For the first time, from 24 September to 9 October this year, an unprecedented scale of a world music carnival was created across multiple cities simultaneously: 64 world music performances of different styles featuring artists and bands from 21 countries and regions were brought to audiences.
Our partnership with World Culture Open also led to World Music Shanghai pairing with Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in Jeju, South Korea, thus giving birth to an international initiative of bringing world music across Asia.
You must be approached by numerous booking agents and artists. How do you choose the artists? What elements do you take into account aside from music quality?
World Music Shanghai has always adhered to selecting musicians of excellent quality, for this is our core competency. In addition, we give consideration to the cultural values and stories behind the music, and we take into account whether Chinese audiences are familiar with the cultures represented by the musicians or find them fresh and new. We hope that through the dimension of music, music lovers in China can come to understand the multiculturalism of every nation, and understand and empathize with the love and pain of others through our common language of music. We believe that this is extremely valuable in a globalizing China. At the same time, we also wish to create an international exchange platform for native musicians in China, ultimately placing our own native musical culture in a global context.
Is the festival programming different in the various cities?
As Shanghai is our home ground, the programming for Shanghai venues is busier and artists will give Shanghai primary consideration when faced with scheduling issues. Regardless, we still did our best to arrange for international and heavyweight bands to perform in other cities beyond Shanghai, and also purposefully arranged for local bands that resonated greatly with the native cultures in those cities.
Are there are artists you tried to book for this year’s festival that you were not able to bring to China?
We really wanted to invite DakhaBrakha from Ukraine this year, but were not able to have them with us due to various reasons.
What concerts were the most popular this year?
The most popular concerts seemed to be by Tuvan ensemble Alash who brought us an astounding throat-singing performance, as well as by China’s very own Prince of Kun Qu Opera Zhang Jun who brought us “kun plug” – a perfect blend of traditional KunQu and modern music.
What would you like music fans to come away with from World Music Shanghai festival?
We hope to let more and more people understand and experience the world through music. Living with an increasingly restless city rhythm, we need pure music to nourish our hearts. World music is a record of thousands of years of musical notes that mark the unique beauty in the depths of every human soul; that mark the beautiful landscapes of the countries and cultures featured at our festival.
What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
We are passionate about world music, and hope that more and more people will come to understand world music and feel the strength and happiness it brings, ultimately leaving their familiar spaces to explore our large world through the door of world music, understand the cultures of others, and know that we are never alone.
Do the artists who perform at Shanghai also participate in workshops and other events for the community?
Yes they do. World Music Shanghai is also unique in the sense that in addition to on-stage world music performances, we also bring interactive experiential activities that are open to the public.
During the festival, artists also participate in a series of free world music workshops that are held in a variety of urban spaces including an office building, a museum, public cultural spaces, and cafes. Through activities such as intimate music-listening gatherings and educational, family-oriented world music workshops, audience members were able to immerse themselves in world music experiences from all over the globe in between performances. The distance between performers and audience was closed, and all participants were able to experience the joy of world music together as one.
Did you notice a change in the audiences’ interest in world music?
Over the years, the audience’s attitude towards world music has been gradually evolving from one of cultural curiosity, to one of appreciation with expertise and selectivity. This is both a challenge and an inspiration for us.
Are there any artists that you enjoyed working with the most?
We have deep respect for all the artists we have worked with, and remember them all fondly. The artists leaving at the end of every festival season is the most painful time of the festival for us. They are so lovable, modest, pure and noble in character, and are the driving force behind our perseverance for so many years.
How has the festival evolved throughout the years?
We are working hard to grow the festival continuously, not just in terms of scale, but also in terms of quality. By quality, we don’t just mean artist selection, but also in injecting more vigor than before into pre-festival promotion, into the aesthetics of the live festival settings, and into our festival acoustics. In addition, we have also evolved from broadcasting large-scale music festivals live once or twice a year, to also broadcasting small-scale workshops that are free and open to public throughout the year, thus allowing us to make world music more popular and accessible by frequently bringing small-scale live experiences to a wider audience.
Where do you see your festival in 5 years?
We can only say that our team will continue to work hard at bringing our world music festival to more cities and more countries, and with rich and varied high quality content, build Asia’s best and most human-centered world music themed music festival.
In addition to the festival, your organization also runs a word music label. Tell us a little about the releases and artists featured.
Our world music label has just started, and I feel that we have two releases worth mentioning.
The first is the album “Kalavinka” which has beautiful origins stemming from the prayers of Tibetan lama Gong-qiao Tsering Rinpoche from the Golog prefecture, Qinghai province, spreading thousands of years of Tibetan culture to the world through the form of contemporary world music. With the large support of Bruce Jiao, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banma Creative Media, we collected Tibetan folk songs, documented large volumes of original material, and worked closely with renowned Chinese musicians Wu Jie and Peng Cheng (music arrangement), Li Dai Guo and Wu Huan Qing and Shen Er Ning (performance recording) etc. After two years, we finally completed our production of “Kalavinka”. This album incorporates a variety of Tibetan musical elements, including Tibetan folk songs, monks’ chants, Tibetan musical instruments, and other natural sounds – even Tibetan yak bells. All these elements formed the source of creative inspiration, which were integrated with electronic music, resulting in ten works of world music. Much of the music on this album was also chosen as the background music for China Central Television’s 2015 documentary “Roof of The World” which featured the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau.
The second album “Tides” is the first album in the “Sounds of Shanghai” album series, a series that we wish to create. We selected 9 most representative songs from Shanghai’s local Chongming Island folksongs – both traditional and contemporary – and collected and documented these folk songs live, before working with renowned music producers Peng Cheng, Wan Li and Wu Jie on music arrangement and production, ultimately reviving Chongming folksongs through a musical style that the modern audience can embrace.
How is the music scene in your city?
The Shanghai music scene is quite diverse. Western classical music concerts are held every week in major theaters, which do not lack in featuring world famous troupes and performers; almost every night in every “live house”, rock and jazz bands from all over the world take turns to perform; traditional theatres and Pingtan (a musical/oral performance art form) houses are also still active in maintaining traditional and innovative performances.
In addition, various types of music festivals are becoming more and more concentrated.
If anyone visited Shanghai for the first time, what stores, music venues and sightseeing places would you recommend?
The Bund is a must for all first-time visitors to Shanghai, where one can see how the architecture reflects the historical changes between the old Shanghai and the new Shanghai. In terms of music venues, I recommend catching a music concert at the Shanghai Concert Hall, and then an authentic Pingtan performance by the Shanghai Pingtan troupe.
Can you give us an advance of what to expect for the 2017 Festival?
For our 2017 season, we will continue to have the Silk Road as our main theme, and will have subthemed stages and special performances. Beyond the stage, we will also be increasing the frequency of our workshops. Please stay tuned!
How do you see the future of world music in East Asia?
I think the developmental momentum of world music in East Asia will keep getting better. East Asia has a lot of ancient civilizations and rich folk music resources, and as globalization continues, East Asia will also look forward to their own folk music with the world music scene. In addition, music lovers here are having a growing appetite for musical styles beyond Western classical music and pop music, and they wish to understand more diverse musical cultures. I think this is the reason why we spare no effort in spreading the culture of world music.
Two world music festivals, featuring over 80 international performances are taking place in China and South Korea. Chevrolet 2016 World Music Shanghai Festival started on September 24 and will run until October 9 in Shanghai, Foshan, Wuhan, and Chongqing.
The Jeju World Music Oreum Festival will take place October 7-10 in Jeju Island, South Korea.
The festivals are a partnership between World Culture Open and World Music Shanghai. The concerts are free and open to the public as part of the joint initiative.
“We are happy to partner with World Music Shanghai – pioneering advocates of world music in China – to transcend borders with world music throughout East Asia,” said Kseniya Tsoy, Director of Network Relations at World Culture Open. “We hope the festivals will allow more and more people to connect with themselves and with one another, as music truly is humanity’s common language, connecting us beyond borders and spoken languages. Aesthetically beautiful and socially interactive, music is one of the most engaging and accessible ways to connect to our shared humanity, and such an amazing way to learn about new cultures.”
Some of the performers at the Jeju World Music Oreum Festival include MoT (South Korea), Arifa (Netherlands), Trio Kazanchis (Switzerland), Shanren (China), Dagadana (Poland), Lass (Poland), Teleferik (France), Adam Sullivan & The Trees (USA) and Ooberfuse (UK).
Headline photo: Tuvan ensemble Alash, one of the performers at Chevrolet 2016 World Music Shanghai Festival
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion