This weekend is a three-day holiday in China: Duanwujie, the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The Dragon Boats themselves seem to be a Southern China thing. From Beijing, you’d have to travel to the coast to see any as far as I can tell. But there are plenty of other opportunities for diversion in lieu of cool watercraft.
My choice was the Second Annual 2 Kolegas Folk Festival. I saw a show at this club back in the winter time, and I must say it’s much nicer when the weather is. Incidentally, the Chinese name for the club is Liangge Hao Pengyou Jiuba (Two Good Friends Bar). The signs said that all proceeds from the ¥50 entrance fee will be donated to Sichuan earthquake relief.
As you can see, they have canopies set up outside, and the weather is pretty nice. The twist is that all the music actually took place inside the club. Apparently the Beijing security bureau has decided that there will be no outdoor performances for the time being. No official reason has been given, which leads to all sorts of speculation, most of which doesn’t put the authorities in a good light. Seems to me they’d be better off publicly stating their reasons, presuming of course that they are reasonable (which admittedly seems unlikely – I mean, honestly, what can happen?).
Anyway, on the music. Virtually everything was in Chinese, so I can’t even provide artist names aside from reading them out of a magazine, and even then I can’t match up the names with the performers I saw. If any readers can help out, please post comments and I’ll update. I had some technical difficulties on Saturday, so no pictures.
I’m pretty sure the first performer I saw was Wang Juan. She’s a local singer-songwriter with an emotional, delicate voice. I have an album of hers, and it’s quite good.
(This is a picture from her band set on Sunday.)
Other performers included Xiao He, Zhang Si’an, and Wu Ningyue, who is also in a band called Buyi that I would really like to see. They mix rock music with folk from the Ningxia Autonomous Region to the west. There was also an American folk-blues guitarist who was very good, with finger-picking and nice slide work on a set of mostly blues standards. Mixed in with all the acoustic music were some electric and mixed electric/acoustic acts. For the most part, the music resembled American folk music, only sung in Chinese. Many in the audience were able to sing along with songs.
For food, they had yangrou chuanr (lamb skewers), grilled oyster mushrooms, grilled Xinjiang style bread, and little hard-boiled eggs (smaller than ping pong balls) heated on skewers. The woman helping out here is a Canadian from Québec who also played accordion with one of the groups.
Attendance was fairly small, maybe as many as a hundred, though there was never a time when everyone was inside at the same time.
I returned on Sunday afternoon with camera on board. Here are some shots of artists I saw, some labeled on the assumption that the published schedule was adhered to.
On Day Two, Wang Juan did a second set, this time with a band backing her.
As the afternoon turned to night, we got this trio.
She walked with a crutch and had someone help her onto the stage. She has a really beautiful voice that gave me goosebumps a couple of times even without being able to make out much of the lyrics.
Her guitarist was amazing, obviously trained in classical guitar from his hand positions. The flutist had an incredibly pure tone and perfect vibrato, probably also classically trained; he also played a djembe drum (which, as you notice from previous pictures, is downright ubiquitous in the Chinese folk scene). Very lovely all around.
And to finish things off with a little more fun and energy, there was Mademoiselle et les Chinois.
Mademoiselle was our helpful grill attendant, and I could make out enough of her Chinese (and French!) to know that she was making many jokes about how tasty the food was, and encouraging everyone to eat more.
She was really funny, and sang songs from a variety of sources, from French standards to funky, sexy dance tunes. One of them was “Belleville Rendezvous” from the animated film Triplets of Belleville (though without the original accompaniment by bicycle and newspaper).
That made for a pretty full weekend. As it happens, in two weeks there is another festival scheduled at the same location, this time for Chinese independent rock. It’s called CH+INDIE III: The Search for Spock. Last year’s festival was CH+INDIE II: The Wrath of Khan. The week after that, there’s another festival called Beizhan, which will feature Zheng Jun as a headliner one night.