Sichuan Folk Song

18-07-13 LISTN Sichuan Folk Song

The huge west­ern Chi­nese province of Sichuan has its own, dis­tinct his­tory. It con­sists of a broad and fer­tile basin around the city of Cheng­du, ringed by a sparse­ly pop­u­lated wilder­ness of moun­tains, forests and swamps. While this was a cen­ter of ancient non-Han civ­i­liza­tion as ear­ly as the sec­ond mil­le­nnium BC, it grad­u­ally became Sini­fied over the cen­turies, and the city and fer­tile regions are inhab­ited by Han Chi­nese speak­ing a south­west­ern dialect of Man­darin. How­ever, most of the province con­sists of rugged moun­tains, and these are the home of many minor­ity groups, eth­ni­cally and lin­guis­ti­cally not at all Chi­nese. Among them are the Yi, relat­ed to the Burmese, the Qiang, and the Naxi (or Nakhi). The west­ern half of the province is cul­tur­al­ly clos­er to Tibet, many of the minori­ties speak­ing dialects of Tibetan, or close­ly relat­ed lan­guages. All these minori­ties have dis­tinc­tive musi­cal tra­di­tions, and the met­ro­pol­i­tan musi­cal main­stream of Chi­na has drawn from them with the same mix­ing and min­ing process that went on in the devel­op­ment of America’s folk music. The album I have, Sichuan Folk Song and Bal­lad, Vol­ume 2 gives a good sam­ple of this vari­ety. Per­son­ally, the more “folky” the songs are, the more they appeal to me. I par­tic­u­larly like the Naxi song “This Hill is Not As High As That One”.

China’s many eth­nic minori­ties, who com­prise tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, have been hid­den from the world’s view by mil­lennia of obses­sive impe­r­i­al cen­tral­ism and racism. In some cas­es, there are cul­tures of a mil­lion or more peo­ple about whom one can­not find a sin­gle book in a large uni­ver­sity library. Can you imag­ine what it would mean if there was not a sin­gle book in a major library devot­ed to Wales, or the Basques, or to Esto­nia? For­tu­nately, the musi­cal wealth of Sichuan can give us a foot-in-the-door to cel­e­brat­ing a diver­sity that has been kept from our view by ide­ol­ogy and intel­lec­tual lazi­ness.

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