Wu Man – Borderlands (2012)
I first encountered Wu Man a few years back on her outstanding album Wu Man and Friends (2005). She is one of the world’s most renowned pipa players. The pipa is an ancient Chinese lute-type instrument, played for over 2,000 years.
In many ways, Wu Man acts as a diplomat for the pipa and for traditional Chinese music in general and, as a composer and player, she is incredible: a bona fide maestro.
Borderlands is the last part of a 10-album collection representing the diversity of the pipa across China. Wu Man has gathered a group of musicians of Uyghar ethnicity; the Uyghars mostly live in the Western Chinese provence of Xinjiang and surrounding Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Uzbekistan.
To say that I can hear the subtleties of regional traditional Chinese music would be dishonest, but this album certainly feels different to other Wu Man material I have listened to. I think it is the vocals that are my predominant landing point for this difference; they are, I think, sang in the native Uyghar language, rather than the Chinese from previous records. To my untrained ears, it sounds more Persian, more like Googoosh.
The music is beautiful, tranquil, and shows a great deal of complimentarity between Man’s pipa, and the tambur and dutar instruments. All three of which are apparently derived from the ancient barbut.
If you haven’t listened to traditional Chinese music before, then this would be a good place to start, as would Wu Man and Friends.
Favourite tracks: Kurt Naxshisi, Kazakh Song, Woy Bala