China beyond cliché. A country mentioned extensively when talking about communism, cheap competitive market, pollution in Beijing. A country so big that it borders 14 other different countries. Where even the internet is different: there is no facebook or youtube, people dealing with the technology marvels are using local networks. You may wonder what China has to offer at a rock gig level.
I came across this concert while checking the AB website looking for shows to attend. And I said to myself: well, this sounds both fun and interesting. Fun, as they are introduced as bands with “local color”, traditional costumes and instruments. Interesting at the thought of listening to other kind of music than American or European.
Low Wormwood was the opening act. A classic band in composition and appearance: voice/guitar, bass, drums and a lead guitar. They started the show in a mysterious dark ambience, with a soft melancholic sound diffused in blue light over people curious for their performance.
Their music is about their home town, so the songs cannot be otherwise than blue and sensitive. But the guitar reminds of alternative sound of the 90s, turning the performance towards a more experimental sound. The result is a powerful and full of beauty music, but intentionally not flourishing. A living melancholy where traditional echoes are brought alive in solemn rhythms to be then transformed into a more grungy sound. Or vice versa.
While Low Wormwood is dark, deep and serious, Hanggai is more fun. But not less meaningful or more commercial. Glorious folk music blended with rock. The story goes that after hearing throat singing for the first time, the singer went to a journey to Mongolia to discover his heritage and met his band colleagues there. Throat singing, traditional instruments, adaptations of Mongolian folk songs and outfits of men of the steppes even though they live in the metropolis of Beijing.
Seven people on stage, bringing together drums and bass and electric guitar with traditional instruments, where, besides mandolin and Chinese guitars, the most powerful and the star of the band was the horse-hair fiddle morin khuur.
Their songs reflect their name. Hanggai is a Mongolian word invoking an idealized landscape with blue sky, white clouds, grassland, rivers, mountains and woods. In a crossover where a glorious show meets rock’n’roll music, Hanggai sings about beautiful places and brave heroes.
The interaction with the public was extraordinary: the vocalist spoke only in Chinese, but with such pathos and enthusiasm than the response in hurrays and applauses was honest and open. His words were followed by a short translation into English by the guitar player so we found out that the songs were about autumn, brave man, heroes, Gobi desert and other beautiful or strange places.
I left the concert totally in love with the sound of that Chinese cello and trying to recall what heroes in other cultures I know, people who existed in forgotten times, who made a mark in their people’s history so strongly that they are kept mentioned. And what a miracle is art: it can bring to our attention something else than pre-tailored concepts and it can easily reveal stories about places and people never seen or heard before.