Band fuses music styles to cross between two worlds
By Joyce Zhang
Apart from appreciating the ancient architecture, eating delicious snacks and purchasing dazzling handicrafts, a number of travelers to Shanghai are now taking time to watch “Jade Shanghai,” a new regular show at Yu Shanghai Restaurant.
Created by the band Yue Zhi Yuan (Origin of the Moon), it is designed to introduce the city’s culture to visitors. All the 11 members are professionally trained in traditional Chinese music but keen to explore new ideas and markets.
“How would you describe old Shanghai? Is it modern or old? I believe most people would say both,” says Tony Yu, a pipa (Chinese lute) musician who established the band. “That is exactly what we want to present on stage — a new type of traditional Chinese music featuring both the old and modern, just like the old Shanghai itself.”
Pipa, erhu (two-stringed bowed instrument), dizi (bamboo flute) and suona (Chinese trumpet) players are part of the band. But they also have keyboard, bass and percussion musicians to play traditional Chinese music that sounds a bit like pop music.
Yue Zhi Yuan perform more like a rock band. They move their bodies with the rhythm and even walk along the T-shaped stage to interact with guests.
“Traditional Chinese music does not always have to be presented in the traditional way,” Yu says. “A little change may bring more color and excitement to the music. It may even attract new fans.”
About 70 percent of their repertoire for the concert is original music. Elements of electronic, pop and jazz are widely introduced to traditional Chinese music.
For example, “Su San Wu Yue” (Su San Dancing in the Moonlight) is inspired by the Peking Opera piece “Su San Qi Jian.” Echoes of ancient China can be heard through the traditional Chinese instruments, but pop lyrics are a reminder the audience is in for something new. The band has created a dialogue between two different worlds through their music.
They also play a number of genuine traditional Chinese pieces during each concert. This includes the well-known pipa solo “Shimian Maifu” (“House of Flying Daggers”), erhu solo “Er Quan Ying Yue” (“The Moon over a Fountain”) and bamboo flute solo “You Lan Feng Chun” (“Solitary Orchid Greeting the Spring”).
They also interpret Western music with traditional instruments, such as replacing the saxophone with suona and replacing the guitar with pipa. The jazz piece “Spain” is the lone Western piece thus far although they plan to add a Chinese version of “Flight of the Bumble Bee” to the program list.
An adaptation of “Horse Race” (a well-known erhu piece) has also recently been added to the list with face-changing elements from Chuanju Opera. Yu insists they are not against tradition, but protectors of traditional music.
“We are here to provide entertainment that helps relax people, while guide them to some of the traditional treasures step by step,” says Yu.