We Are Family is the opening piece but there’s no Sister Sledge in sight on this collection of traditional songs.
The CD is the latest in a series exploring China’s diverse musical heritage. The songs featured in this recording are folk songs of three of the minority ethnic groups of Yunnan province — Wa, Blang, and De’ang. Yunnan is at the bottom of China, and borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam. The song titles explain their mood and origin, and the sleeve notes help out, too.
The Wa opener We Are Family is ensemble singing, various voices — all from a real village, recorded in situ — taking the lead, the chorus responding, and is a welcome to guests from the Communist Party bringing help to remote villages, which means these songs are not that old. A Wa Love Song is next, the Wa clearly practical and blunt: “I’m not ready to be in love, let alone married,” the lyrics end. Lover Boy In My Heart is next, the girl is warmer towards her beau.
It’s all vocals until track five which features a synth, while Gu Gan is an instrumental featuring the Gu Gan, which sounds like a pipe of some sort, used for sad prayer music.
The Blang section kicks off with The Happy Blang, a traditional sounding tune (with guitar) but again a tribute to the Communist Party, while Dan Fo praises party policy; free from politics is The Joyful Harvest. Love and thanks for the harvest are the staple of the Blang songs, presumably because weddings and crops bring people together.
If the Wa like vocals only and the Blang are happy, the De’ang seem more serious; their first song Standing On The Mountain (male singer, sounds like it could veer into throat singing) is about a bloke who’s climbed a mountain to wonder if his sweetheart still loves him or if she’s with someone else. Though a man who prefers climbing mountains to actually asking her might only have himself to blame.
A Breakup Song is as it sounds — “All I can do is wish you well in the future” — while A De’ang Love Song sees the men climb the mountain and lose the women (again) before the women call “Let’s have some fun”; hopefully the men don’t think this means more climbing.
This is a pretty hardcore world music album, songs from a different culture to ours sung unadorned but it does have its charms. Our favourite is Bai Gan Duo, a song of praise for the temple, for the glottal stops.
Out on the Naxos World Music label, NXW 76090-2.
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