A few weeks ago, I returned from a three-week tour of China with my Warren Wilson student band, Jenny & the Hog Drovers. The group included Maddy Mullany (fiddle), Clarke Williams (fiddle), Hayden Holbert (guitar), Landon George (bass), and myself (banjo). On this cultural exchange, supported by the US Embassy in Beijing, we met and collaborated with a group of Chinese musicians known as Manhu (Fierce Tigers). These traditional musicians, from the Yi ethnic group, live in the Yunnan Province in the south of China, a mountainous region not unlike Appalachia. We spent our initial days at the Linden Centre, in the village of Xizhou in Yunnan, and although the two bands couldn’t speak to each other, we were able to communicate and find common ground musically. We ended up creating six collaborative pieces (drawing from both traditions) that we could perform together. After our time in Xizhou, we traveled to Manhu’s village near Shilin (south of Kunming), where we were welcomed with a raucous celebration that evening. The next day, both bands flew to Beijing, where we performed at the American Center of US Embassy, the National Center for the Performing Arts (the Chinese equivalent of the Kennedy Center), and a few other venues. At the US Embassy, I gave a talk, “Appalachian Music and Dance: Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics.” This presentation, which included some of the collaborative pieces, was live-streamed to thousands of people across China, and it is available for viewing at: http://v.qq.com/live/p/topic/21526/review.html
From Beijing we rode the 200 mph bullet train to Shanghai, where we performed at the Shanghai Concert Hall and the American Center at US Consulate. Most of our performances ended with dancing, drawn from both traditions. (It's a challenge to call a square dance for non-English speakers.) While in Shanghai, we also spent a day recording our collaborations. If you would like to see photos and some videos from the trip, check out our Facebook page.