Banjo player and singer Abigail Washburnand her Sparrow Quartet will embark on the first-ever U.S.-sponsored cultural mission to Tibet from October 18 to November 15, 2006.
Additionally, the group will perform along China’s eastern seaboard, where they will bring America’s oldest and most original music form to, arguably, the world’s oldest civilization through a special grant from the U.S. State Department, applied for by the Beijing branch of the U.S. Bureau of Culture and Education.
They believe it’s the strained nature of the relationship between Tibet and China and the U.S. that won the money for the tour, says Washburn, whose critically acclaimed Song of the Traveling Daughter (Nettwerk) “brings the music of Appalachia to the Middle Kingdom” (Paste Magazine) by way of haunting compositions in both English and Chinese.
Not long ago, Washburn was applying to law school in China before returning to the States with a desire to explore her own American culture. But something clicked after hearing a scratchy old LP of Doc Watson playing the banjo and singing “Shady Grove.”
“During my freshman year at Colorado College, I joined a summer program trip to China. It had a profound effect on me. I discovered a Chinese culture that was so deep and ancient; it changed my perspective on America.”
Her appreciation organically evolved into a labor of love with her first tour of China in 2004, and a second in the fall of 2005. The U.S. government officials quickly took notice, because “I guess it’s rare for artists to invest their own money to perform for peanuts simply out of a passion for sharing music, and a commitment to expanding both sides of the ocean’s views of each other,” says Washburn.
The U.S. Ambassador to China immediately got involved and invited the Sparrow Quartet to his home to play for the embassy and important friends. Shortly after the tour, the Cultural Bureau moved forward with the Tibet music tour grant application.
“I can’t say enough about how lucky I feel that I get to make music in Tibet, a country I care so deeply about, with such a cool group of people and musicians. Lord knows they aren’t traveling with me for the money. It is for the love of music and communication and cultural sharing.”