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World Music CD Reviews Asia & Far East

WU MAN AND FRIENDS

By Stacy Meyn
Published September 8, 2005

Traditional Crossroads

Wu Man (who is a woman) is the primary force behind bringing the dulcet strains of the lute-like Chinese pipa to ears from all over. Trained at Beijing’s Central Conservatory and having earned the first master’s degree in pipa, she’s collaborated with fellow string specialists Yo-Yo Ma (currently with his Silk Road Project), the Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass and more. This time, her friends are three gifted musicians from Uganda, the Ukraine and Appalachia, respectively. Traditional melodies from each area are performed on a variety of plucked instruments, featuring, of course, the pipa. The Ugandan endongo and adungu; Ukrainian bandura and sopilka; and Appalachian banjo and dulcimer each get shining moments in a farrago of varied topical songs. Each person, including Wu, is also a vocalist. Whether warbling “I’m Going Back To North Carolina” or bewailing a “Cossack Lament,” each singer treats each song with reverence for its storytelling. “White Snow In A Sunny Spring” is counterpointed by “Bat-Out-Of-Hell Kozachok.” “Dance Of  The Yi People” enthuses with “Old Joe Clark.” No matter that the songs are from such disparate regions. Wu Man’s finely-tuned ear picked out similarities in melody to classic Chinese tunes, and as she consistently has with her instrument, she made music alliance.