Bella In China
Snapshots and soundbites from Bella Hardy's travels in Yunnan Province and the city of Kunming
November - December 2015
From 9th November to the 25th December 2015, I was on a British Council and PRS for Music Foundation residency in the Chinese city of Kunming. I hoped to experience and learn from musical traditions of the Chinese culture, both in Kunming itself and in trips to rural Yunnan, find similarities with British traditional music, and write new songs based on it all. I uploaded photographs and audio files of the sights and sounds of the places I visited, and some new writing I created along the way. It was an incredible journey. Thank you for calling into this snapshot blog to share it with me.
Best wishes, Bella x
1. YUNNAN NORMAL UNIVERSITY - 13th November 2015
Yunnan Normal University is in Chenggong District, a newly built area of Kunming comprising many different institutions, and over 100,000 students. The music students demonstrated different instruments. Here is a clip of cui wen xun playing the guzheng. She introduced the traditional tune as 'Autumn'.
2. YUNNAN NATIONALITIES VILLAGES - 14th November 2015
This is a park built to demonstrate the 26 minority nationalities who live in the Yunnan Province of China. Each minority have a mock village built around the park. Here is a song of the Yi people.
3. DIANCHI - 14th November 2015
Kunming is built next to and around dianchi lake, the mother lake. In the evening, people walk along the side, listen to buskers, and buy 'deuk deuk tong', or ding ding candy, sold by a man riding his bicycle ringing a bell.
4. MODERN SKY OFFICE - 19th November 2015
Modern Sky Entertainment are one of my host organisations. Myself and li jiazheng had a musical meeting in their office. We're improvising and writing new songs based on words from the 'shijing'. This clip is one of our works in progress.
5. CUI HU PARK - 22nd November 2015
Cui hu, or Green Lake Park is a series of walkways and built up areas across a lake in the centre of Kunming. In the winter, black-headed gull from Siberia migrate to the city. They've just arrived. They're very much loved, and residents gather to see them. People buy bread from vendors who cry across the lake, raising the birds from the water to entertain the onlookers.
6. CUI HU PARK - 22nd November 2015
At the weekends, ethnic minority groups gather at Green Lake Park to dance. Some come in traditional clothing, some are casually dressed, some passers by just join in. In this group, the man in the centre wearing a fur hat and bells on his boots acts as a kind of 'caller', occasionally demonstrating actions to the group, though most of them seem to know the steps.
7. PIN YUAN - 22nd November 2015
A performance by li jiazheng and his friends, in a traditional open Chinese courtyard. They play a variety of instruments, always improvising. There is a dancer behind them. She moves deliberately and delicately, and silently except for her hand bell. In this extract, the audience have been asked to maintain a humming chant.
8. MENGZI, HONGHE THEATRE - 24th November 2015
Yunnan Province Minority Showcase. A three day competition of groups travelling from rural areas to demonstrate their traditional songs, dances and instrument playing. On the last day, a selection of prices are awarded. Here are two Yi women, both in their 70s, teaching a group of younger women, clacking sticks together to create rhythm. The younger women then went on to play the drums in an elaborately syncopated dance.
9. MENGZI, HONGHE THEATRE - 24th November 2015
Yunnan Province Minority Showcase. Another Yi people performance. The women dance and bang their sticks on the ground whilst the men play pipes. The sound of this reminds me so much of some of the morris dancing back home.
10. MENGZI, HONGHE THEATRE - 24th November 2015
Yunnan Province Minority Showcase. A Hani People performance.
11. NAN HU, MENGZI - 25th November 2015
There's no audio for this I'm afraid. I'm on an eight day trip around Honghe, an area south of Kunming in Yunnan Province, with my friend Fangyan from Modern Sky. In Mengzi city we went walking to get a feel for the place. We found this, Nan Hu, meaning South Lake. It was so beautiful. I sat on a bench and wrote about it. I'm hoping it will be a song before too long.
12. JIANSHUI - 26th November 2015
We travelled by bus from Mengzi to Jianshui, another city in the Honghe prefecture of Yunnan province. Yunnan means 'South of the Clouds', 'yun' meaning cloud and 'nan' being south. This city has an old town centre, with large fort gateways. The mountains circle the city on every side.
13. ZHANG RULIN, ZHU JIA HUA YUAN - 26th November 2015
I met Zhang Rulin of the Yi People in the Zhu Jia Hua Yuan, the Zhu Family Garden. Once the home of a rich family, this is now a government property and tourist site. Zhang Rulin told me that he learnt the traditional songs of his people from his elder relatives (often meaning the older members of his community rather than blood relations). All the while we chatted and shared songs, he smoked his pipe, which was translated to me as being traditionally called "the second wife". This song is a Yi People drinking song, a toast, in which treasured guests are offered the best wine. These are very common with each minority group having a signature toast.
14. ZHANG RULIN, ZHU JIA HUA YUAN - 26th November 2015
Zhang Rulin performed his traditional dancing using small hand drums, which he flicks rhythmically with his forefingers as he dances. When not in use, these two drums slot together to form a kind of box, and the translation I was given for the instrument was "Cigarette Box Drum". Many of his moves seemed similar to those of an English morris dancer.
15. JIANSHUI - 27th November 2015
Street food is a common way to eat any meal in Jianshui. Outside small, open establishments, someone sits by a barbecue, toasting "stinky tofu", and anything else you choose from the fridge.
16. SHUANGLONG QIAO - 28th November 2015
We took a tourist trip on a refurbished Qing Dynasty train line from Jianshui to Tuan Shan Cun, stopping at Shuanglong Qiao, or Double Dragon Bridge. A guide described how the people believed that two dragons guarded a gemstone which protected the community, and brought sunshine and rain for a good harvest. She went on to tell tales of these dragons, and gave more recent history regarding the escape of a rebel in the early 1900's, who burnt the bridge down to avoid being captured by his pursuers.
The man on the river is paddling a very small circular boat and pulling up fishing nets from the water.
17. TUAN SHAN CUN - 28th November 2015
'Together Mountain Village', the destination of our train ride. On the journey home, a guide sang a traditional song (through her head piece microphone, with a small speaker clipped to her belt).
18. QUZUOCHONG XIAZHAI - 30th November 2015
We drove through Jianshui county to Quzuochong Xiazhai, which translates something like "Song Work Rush Lower Village", to visit farmer and traditional singer Pu Xiaofan. She takes an exam each year to be a spokesperson for Yunnan's intangible cultural heritage. As a child in Shiping county, she learnt songs from an elderly aunt. Her and her friend sang this song as I helped them pull up ginger in the fields.
19. QUZUOCHONG XIAZHAI - 30th November 2015
The freshly harvested ginger is taken to the river and washed, ready to be taken to the large market to be sold. Pieces of ginger that are slightly rotten or just unsuitable are often left in the water, which polishes them to a shiny yellow along the river bed.
20. PU XIOAFAN & A QIAORONG, QUZUOCHONG XIAZHAI - 30th November 2015
In their home, Pu Xiaofan and her husbandA Qiaorong sang part of this 'Seaweed Tune'. This verse, one of seven long verses, is known as the "tuo qiang" which translates as "head tune", meaning introduction.
21. ROAD TO YUANYANG - 1st December 2015
In a taxi hired for two days, we drove across the mountains of Honghe towards the rice terraces of the Hani people. Winding up and down through valleys and occasional hamlets, the journey was spectacular. We reached the city of Yuanyang after around four hours (though I think our route was especially scenic for my benefit, and twice we waited fifteen minutes for road works). We passed through the city, and drove up through more countryside to Yuanyang Xinjie ("Yuanyang Old Town"), and onwards to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Hani rice terraces, and our village of Yuangcaoling.
22. LI SHIMIN, 'WIND'S WHISPER INN', YUANGCAOLING - 1st December 2015
It was dark by the time we arrived at the 'Wind's Whisper Inn' in Yuangcaoling ('Yellow Grass Village'). After dinner, the innkeeper, Li Shimin, played his erhu. This tune is called 'Horse Riding'. The bow of the erhu runs between the two strings (which are tuned to D and A) and the bow hair is pushed or pulled by the fingers of his right hand depending on which string he's playing.
23. HUANGCAOLING - 2nd December 2015
Sunrise over the Hani rice terraces of Honghe.
24. HUANGCAOLING - 2nd December 2015
My morning hunt for a cafe for coffee and writing time has mixed results, so I was quite surprised and very happy to find this little gem in our tiny village on the mountain! This was the last day of my Honghe trip, and in the afternoon we headed back to Jianshui by taxi, and onwards to my Chinese home in Kunming on the train.
25. YUANTONG TEMPLE - 6th December 2015
Yuantong Buddhist Temple, Kunming. The temple's pond is full of terrapin and koi. It is amazingly quiet and peaceful given it's position on a busy road in the centre of the city. All around the grounds, in shaded trees and small rooms of gold Buddha, people chant and pray.
26. OPERA AT KUNMING MARKET - 7th December 2015
In one of the many busy markets of Kunming, there is a daily traditional opera from 2pm-4pm. A small team of performers play many roles, changing behind the red curtains to the side, while an orchestra of volunteers sit by the stage and provide the soundtrack. People watch whilst eating lunch, talking, and playing mahjong at the back of the room.
27. RECORDING - 8th December 2015
Bob Wei's Studio nr Kunming. Myself and li jiazheng are playing a song called 'Stars' which is partly lyrics from the Chinese Classic of Poetry 'Shijing', and partly words I wrote on my trip to Honghe. Iain Thomson from the UK has joined me, and is playing guitar.
28. CUI HU - 13th December 2015
Back at Green Lake Park, Kunming. Here is a community band, mainly made up of brass, saxophone players and flautists, with people joining in on percussion instruments, and two ladies taking it in turns to sing in the middle. Many of the musicians are mic'ed up, with small personal speakers on straps around their necks.
29. SNOW IN KUNMING - 16th December 2015
The city of eternal spring saw two days of unexpected snow. The cold weather is so irregular that buildings don't have heating, and are often not completely sealed from the outside. This is the view looking down from the balcony by my front door, and the sound of the birds who seemed especially talkative in the sudden cold.
30. SHOWCASE AT ELEPHANT ART CENTRE - 19th December 2015
The debut of new music from my Chinese residency at the Elephant Art Centre in Kunming. I performed twelve new pieces, including two traditional songs learnt from Zhang Rulin, three songs written from the book of poems the Shijing, one Shijing poem to a traditional tune I learnt at Yunnan Normal University, five of my new poems inspired by the places I'd seen on my visit, and a new song called 'Nan Hu' written from another of my new poems (inspired by the lake seen in blog entry 11). You can listen to a clip of Nan Hu recorded from this performance below. Each piece was translated into Chinese for the audience to understand.
31. XI SHAN - 22nd December 2015
Xi Shan, or Western Mountains. This range of hills lie along the side of the lake Dian Chi across from the sprawling city of Kunming. It is known locally as the sleeping woman, or 'Sleeping Beauty'. This is the view northwards from Luohan Peak. Below, down the mountainside, are a chain of buddhist and taoist temples and the Longmen (Dragon Gate) grottoes, with spectacular pathways built from 1782-1854 carved into and through the edge of the rockface.
32. 500KM FESTIVAL - 24th December 2015
Christmas Eve; my final night in China, and my final performance. I did a 45minute set at Kunming's 500KM festival, a music festival run by my hosts Modern Sky Entertainment, with a 30,000 people attendance. Li jiazheng joined me for three songs. In this picture we're stood behind the mainstage after the show. The photo is taken by Iain Thomson, who also played guitar for the show. Below you can hear a clip from the gig, a performance of 'Ten Flowers' learnt from Zhang Rulin in Jianshui.
From The Mountains To The City Lakes
Documentary of Bella Hardy in Yunnan Province, China, November-December 2015.
Made by Yan Junjie Studio. Music by Bella Hardy, featuring Iain Thomson and li jiazheng. Arranged by Modern Sky and Elephant Books.
Sponsored by the British Council and PRS For Music Foundation.