Female musicians wow audiences from Broadway to Beijing

Female musicians wow audiences from Broadway to Beijing
Red Poppy Ladies' Percussion, China's first, all-female percussion group.

Two all-female bands, which harmoniously blend Eastern and Western music, performed at the opening gala of Beijing Week, a cultural event in Copenhagen on May 8.

Red Poppy Ladies' Percussion, China's first, all-female percussion group, opened the gala with two of their most popular works, Chinese Dragon and Mulan the Musical.

Chinese Dragon was the band's first original song when they started in Beijing in 1999. The band's eight members took to the stage in traditional Chinese costume and played on more than 20 percussion instruments. Their performance mixed classical and contemporary influences, from both the East and West, and paired fast beats with dramatic lighting and dancing.

Zhou Li, director of Red Poppy Ladies' Percussion, said it was not the first time the band had performed in Copenhagen but audiences were still overwhelmed by the storm-like drumming, which was backed up by a symphony orchestra.

Mulan the Musical, another of the group's original works created three years ago, saw the band perform on Broadway for more than 30 shows in January 2013.

The musical is based on the story of legendary heroin Hua Mulan, who pretended to be a man and replaced her aged father in the army. The show mixes traditional Chinese drumming techniques with loud, dynamic music as well as solos and quieter pieces.

The band's synchronistic drumming style provides a visual feast for this classic tale.

"The show keeps evolving since we added new music elements and plots into it," said Zhou. "It perfectly combines traditional Chinese culture with contemporary instruments and art forms."

"Mulan brings a different beat when you think of a musical, no signing, dancing, or dialogue. Drum is our sole language, which takes the audiences on the journey with Mulan," Zhou added.

The group has performed in more than 50 countries and in 2008, they participated in the Beijing Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies.

"We are very excited to see the development of the band, starting from one percussion player to now, around 20 members," said Zhou.

The year after the band started, they performed at CCTV's Spring Festival Gala, which was recognition of their performance. In June this year the group is due to return to Broadway for more than 100 performances of Mulan.

To keep the band fresh Zhou recruits new members every year and all the performers, who are in their early 20s, are professionally trained for percussion and Chinese drum technique.

Crystal Music Ensemble, the first band in Asia to perform with crystal-made instruments, closed the Beijing Week gala with six of their best works, including Rhythm of Five-Color Crystal and Banquet Fire.

The performers wore Peking Opera style and traditional Chinese ink painting costumes and played traditional Chinese instruments, including pipa and erhu, as well as Western violins and cellos, which were made with crystals.

The group's founder and a cellist, Zhang Shasha, said she started the band after she graduated from China Conservatory with some of her classmates because they shared a desire to revive traditional Chinese folk music and experiment with Eastern and Western instruments.

The idea for crystal instruments came from a performance Zhang watched at university in 2006 where a crystal pipa was played by Zhao Cong from the China National Orchestra.

"We found instrument maker Wang An, who imported crystals from UK and helped us make the instruments. Two years later, we started the band," recalled Zhang.

"We were so young and brave to take the risk since we were the first to do a crystal instrument band. But the result was good and audiences worldwide are amazed by our performances."

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