Percussionists from Indonesia giving a performance during the music festival. Photos courtesy of World Music Shanghai 2008
World-renowned groups such as Huun-Huur-Tu came together in Shanghai recently with unknown farmer musicians such as those of the Pumi ethnic group from Yunnan province to present a kaleidoscopic view of music in the world.
World Music Shanghai 2008, held from April 30 to May 5, saw musicians from five foreign countries and five Chinese ethnic groups share the same stage at the first festival of world music in China.
"Much of our culture is passed down through drumming. When we play drums, we are showing our culture," says Ndikuriyo Terence, a player with the drum group Burundi Beat. "Other players were also showcasing their culture in their performances, and it felt like we were having some competition on stage."
Playing traditional Burundian drum music that is considered sacred and linked to regeneration and fertility, the 12-piece Burundi Beat energized the Shanghai Concert Hall on the first night of the festival.
"I was stunned by their drumbeats. I like to listen to loud rock music, but that cannot compare to the power of this music," says Shi Yang, a junior student from Shanghai University, after watching the Burundi Beat in action.
Khoomei, a form of singing that comes from Tuva, a small autonomous Russian republic on the Mongolian border, was the other major draw of the festival. The singers of Huun-Huur-Tu sang two parts - a bass part and an overtone in a higher pitch - at the same time. This technique is said to be based on the nomads' imitation of the wind whistling.
"Khoomei is a treasure of the Tuvan people. It is very much related to nature," says Sayan Bapa, a singer of Huun-Huur-Tu. "The Tuvan are a nomadic people. We live close to nature, hear the sounds of nature, and sing about nature."
Bapa used to play jazz and rock, but he found traditional Tuvan music deeper and more beautiful. In 1992, he co-founded Huun-Huur-Tu, which means "sunbeams", and has since taken Tuvan music all over the world.
Unlike professional musicians such as Huun-Huur-Tu, most musicians of the five Chinese groups who performed at World Music Shanghai still live as farmers, but the festival gave them an opportunity to present to Shanghai and the world their traditional music.