Tag Archives: guizhou

Jack Body in China: Interview with NZTrio and Gao Ping

To celebrate and share the works of the late, great New Zealand composer Jack Body, the NZ Consulate-General in Chengdu and long-time friend, composer and pianist Gao Ping 高平 invited the NZTrio to perform at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music this month.

Kiwese attended a press conference (oooh) with Gao Ping and the lovely folk from NZTrio: Ashley Brown (cello), Justine Cormack (violin) and Sarah Watkins (piano), all dear friends and musical comrades of this celebrated Kiwi music maker.

With a YouTube search of the name ‘Jack Body,’ you will find a mixed bag of NZSQ performance recitals and club remixes of the house tune ‘Jack Your Body.’ A truly spectacular name, for a one of a kind, fun-loving and inspired man.

Te Aroha-born composer Jack Body will be remembered for many things. He was an educator, photographer, traveller, editor, facilitator and mobiliser of New Zealand’s musical dialogue with the outside world. Having lectured at the New Zealand School of Music for over thirty years, Jack introduced the Indonesian gamelan to New Zealand, wrote countless numbers of works, invited talent from around the world to perform, write and teach in New Zealand, and even released a photographic series of penises!

Jack attended school and university in Auckland but later called Wellington home, where lived with his life partner Yono Soekarno in Aro Valley. Despite his fascination with the music and cultures of the world, Jack was based in New Zealand his whole life and dedicated himself to bringing the world to NZ and vice versa.

We are forever grateful for his commitment. Rest in peace, Jack.

NZTrio in full flight.
NZTrio in full flight. Image by Kiwese.

Hi NZTrio! This is not your first time in China, is it?

JUSTINE CORMACK: I forget how many times we’ve been here already! Jack established these music links with China. He is the reason we have been able to come so many times.



How did this trip come about ?

ASHLEY BROWN: It was a lovely invitation from Gao Ping and the NZ Consulate. We’ve been to Chengdu twice before to play at the Sichuan Conservatory. We love the food and the people. We are beginning to get further into the local music, too. Gao Ping is currently writing a piece for us, a piano trio with guzheng, which is a very important and exciting project – a way for China and New Zealand to join hands in a cultural way. Hopefully it will be performed on our next visit to Chengdu.



So the piano and guzheng will be brought together?

The piece will be for them and a guzheng, instruments from different directions coming together on the same stage. This program will also include other composers, including several from New Zealand.



Shen Nalin, Gao Weijie, Jack Body and Gao Ping outside Parliament during the Asia Pacific Festival, February 2007. Image from Gao Ping's website.
Shen Nalin, Gao Weijie, Jack Body and Gao Ping outside Parliament during the Asia Pacific Festival, February 2007. Image from www.gaoping.org.

Jack said he enjoyed coming to Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou to find Chinese inspiration. What do you think inspired him? 

GAO: Mr. Body came to the Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan region really early on- the first time was about thirty years ago. He travelled out to really remote villages to sample their music, including ethnic minority areas in Guizhou. He loved folk music – the music that derived from the original ecology. He collected a lot of material – this whole journey was recorded in a documentary called ‘Big Nose,’ which what Chinese people call foreigners.

Fieldwork, data collection, sound recording, all of this had an enormous impact on his later works. He was not only interested in folk music but customs as well, like the backstreet hubbub of hawkers and peddlers of Chengdu at the time. He recorded these voices and well as the chanting of workers, then later added them into his works.


高:我觉得博蒂先生对云贵川这个地区,因为他来的很早,大概三十年前就来过这个地方,而且到农村,去所有的我们中国人叫采风,他去非常偏僻的地方包括贵州少数民族的地区。他喜欢民间音乐 那种我们现在叫的原生态民间音乐。他收集了很多资料,后来也有一部纪录片记录他当时这一段经验,叫做《大鼻子》,因为我们喜欢叫外国人叫大鼻子。


What are the highlights of tomorrow’s performance?

ALL: Everything!

SARAH WATKINS: One special piece in the program is for solo piano with voice recording called ‘The Street Where I Live’ – the voice is Jack describing the street he lived on in Wellington. It is nice to have that voice as part of this conference, even though he is no longer with us. The whole program is a lovely display of Jack’s interest in so many different styles of music.



SARAH: 我觉得一个有钢琴和人声的作品叫做《我所居住的街区》是很特别,作品里的人声是Body先生的本人他的声音。他在描述自己在惠灵顿住的一条街。Body先生已经去世了,但是我们还能够听他的声音 。明天节目表示杰克非常多元化的类型。

NZTrio’s performance in Chengdu.
Featuring excerpts from Fire in the Belly and The Street Where I Live by Jack Body and Four Sketches by Gao Ping.

What kind of connection did Jack have with Chengdu and Sichuan?

GAO: The first time Mr. Body came to Sichuan was in 1986. Although I didn’t see him back then, he forged some great connections with several musicians here at the Conservatory of Music. Later when I moved to the U.S. to study, I invited him to a performance of his works. When I eventually moved to New Zealand, I had a lot do with him. To be honest, we have always been pushing this NZ and China music connection, he came to Sichuan in 2009 with some other Kiwi composers. He is a New Zealand composer who really cares about Chinese music.

His real ideology was based around a musical worldliness. Not a worldliness where everyone is the same, quite the opposite, he hoped that every place could protect what was unique about them, while also being able to mingle with everyone else. This is what he was about. Whether in his own works, events or festivals, he was always promoting this ideology.


高:Body先生第一次来到四川是86年,那个时候我没有见过他,但是他当时跟四川的音乐家有很深入的交流了。后来我去了美国留学的时候 请他去美国,有一个音乐会演奏他的作品。后来我去新西兰跟他非常有关系。其实我们一直在做这种中国音乐和新西兰音乐的交流,他2009年来过四川,和其他的新西兰作曲家在一起。他是对中国音乐特别关注的一个新西兰作曲家。


Dong Fei (Kunqu Opera), composer Jack Body, Wu Na (guqin) and Gao Ping (pianist). Photo: Lynda Chanwai-Earle.
Dong Fei (Kunqu Opera), Jack Body, Wu Na (guqin) and Gao Ping. Photo: Lynda Chanwai-Earle. Image from RNZ.

KIWESE: You mentioned that the NZ environment influenced you to compose Bright Light Cloud Shadows (2007). To what extent does your environment influence you work?

GAO: Certainly an artist’s environment has a very deep influence on his art, but it is not always clear. When you write you are emerged in the process, but the air, the light, everything, is what you are in – it does something to you, but it is impossible to separate what that is. That particular piece Bright Light Cloud Shadows was written in Christchurch, that is my NZ piece, although the title comes from the painter Bada Shanren. If I was to write such a piece now it would be very different, because I live in Beijing where there is no light and no clouds…



Jack Body and Joko Sutrisno, about 1988. Image from Te Ara.
Jack Body and Joko Sutrisno, about 1988. Image from Te Ara.

KIWESE: In addition to having such a close working relationship with Jack, what was he like as a person? Any personal anecdotes you’d like to share?

JUSTINE: He had a really wonderful sense of humour, as well being generous and loving, he really took care of people. There always seems to be a sense of humour in Jack’s music, my lasting memory of him is that wry chuckle. The first piece we will play at the concert is called Pain In The Arse, where have to scream out things like ‘pain in the BUTT BUTT BUTT!’ He would be chuckling at us!

ASHLEY: My memories are sincerity. What he taught us is that collaboration shouldn’t be superficial, where two groups simply share a stage, but to find ways for cultures to intermingle. Eating the food, meeting the people and actually existing together, having an understanding of each other. Having a laugh, telling jokes and a glass of wine with the people you are going to be performing with is really important. Jack certainly showed us how to share a few wines!

SARAH: Certainly one of our first memories with Jack was when we were travelling in Indonesia and our van broke down. So we had to pass a few hours in the middle of nowhere. Jack wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait in the van for a few hours, he wandered off and came back a while later saying ‘come, come!’ He had walked down a dusty road and found some houses at the end, where he met some families who invited us back for a cup of tea. That sense of exploration is what I will remember about him.


JUSTINE: 他真的很幽默,深情款款的一个人,很关心大家。他的音乐也有一种幽默,我永远不会忘记他的讽刺意味的笑。我们在演奏中第一首要演的作品叫做《腚疼》,我们要喊很奇怪的东西比如:“疼!腚!腚!腚!” 我以为他会对我们笑死了。我们一起有很多美好时光。

ASHLEY: 我记得他的诚意。他给我们教合作不应该是很浅薄,两个群体在同台而已,但要把不同的文化交融,一起吃饭,认识,存在,了解。他说跟你要合作的人一起玩儿喝酒是文化交融很重要的一部分。他真是示范如何分享几杯酒!

SARAH: 我们跟杰克最早的记忆之一是我们在印度尼西亚旅游的时候,然后汽车中途抛锚了,所以我们在一个很偏僻的地方要等几个小时。杰克是一个完全不会坐在车里面等的人,所以他随便走散找到了一些当地房子和家人,他们请我们来喝茶。我永远会记得杰克的一种探索感觉。

You recently ran a Douglas Lilburn tertiary composition competition. Even here at this event we can see a lot of NZ university promotion, and you will have seen the increase in Chinese students in Auckland. Is there much of a Chinese base in the performance or composition departments?

JUSTINE: Definitely in performance, composition not so many. It seems to me that music is valued by Asian people in New Zealand, that really comes through in their commitment and energy to learning about music. Great discipline, which is often lacking in others (laughs).

SARAH: We encountered some Chinese students over the years, I’m thinking Jeff Lin, and there were a few in the competition.

GAO: Concerts like this are important in increasing China’s awareness of NZ music. I think NZ is known for its milk here, a little wine, but I try to tell them there are great artists and composers!

你们最近办一个Douglas Lilburn大学生作曲比赛。在成都这个领事馆活动也推动新西兰的大学,而你们看过在奥克兰中国留学生也越来越多。在新西兰大学的演奏系和作曲系中国学生多不多?

JUSTINE: 演奏系有很多中国留学生,但作曲系没有那么多。我以为亚洲人在新西兰很重视音乐,他们对学习有一种很认真的态度。他们经常比其他学生有更厉害的纪律。

SARAH: 我们在这几年认识一些中国学生,比如Jeff Lin,还有一些在我们的作曲比赛。


Any stand out young NZ composers in your eyes at the moment?

JUSTINE: There are so many. Isaac Shatford – he’s a first year composition student. We’ve even brought along some of his music. In the Lilburn competition he wrote a piece for piano trio, which Lilburn himself never wrote.

很多。Isaac Shatford是一个大一作曲学生,而我们也把他写的作品带过来。他在比赛编了一首钢琴三重奏的作品。Lilburn先生没编这种作品。

SARAH: Salina Fisher, she’s a fantastic composer, violinist and a pianist!

Salina Fisher,她是一名精彩的作曲家,小提琴家和钢琴家。

ALL: Claire Cowan, whose work we played at the dinner reception. She also belongs to the Blackbird Ensemble.

Claire Cowan,我们昨天演过她的作品。她是Blackbird Ensemble的成员。

Good stuff, thanks guys!

Many thanks to the NZ Consulate-General in Chengdu for inviting Kiwese to this event!

Find out more about NZTrio and more about Gao Ping.

In memory of Jack Body (1944 – 2015)


Pei Pa Koa

Kiwese is certainly not qualified to be giving medical advice, but PEI PA KOA, guys.

I came down with a pretty bad illness during my recent stay in the Miao village turned tourist town of Xijiang, in South East Guizhou. To make myself feel less crappy, the period will now be referred to as my ‘week of convalescence.’

There was one thing that got me through. Pei Pa Koa. Most Canto kids will be familiar with this gluggy black liquid and it’s inimitable minty medicinal flava. Mum used to force a spoonful of it down our throats every winter, beckoning groans of “noooo, not the GLUG.”

However, my mind and throat have been changed. If you are in the zone to cough some shit up, look no further than this magic brew. Against all sane medical advice ever, I drank this shit straight out the bottle for several days, coughed and spat like a Guizhou local and got the hell out of Xijiang before I had time to look back.

My friend says it can also be served in a sliced pear…

Available at all reputable Chinese medicine stores. I bet Wah Lees has it.


High Times with Shanren

Back in January, Kiwese hung out with the boys from Shanren 山人 (mountain men) in Beijing to chat about ethnic music fusions, tourism development in Yunnan and their upcoming trip to New Zealand for WOMAD.

Shanren are a band from the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in the south-west of China, where the mountains are tall and majestic, the people are warm and hospitable and the traditional cultures of various ethnic minorities thrive away from the scurry of the metropolitan centres. The band, consisting of lead singer and guitarist Qu Zihan [瞿子寒], bassist Ai Yong [艾勇], drummer Ou Jianyun aka Xiao Ou [欧建云], vocal instrumentalist Xiao Bu Dian [小不点] and Sam [夏天] on percussion, are all multi-instrumentalists who possess an artillery of instruments, such the qinqin [秦琴] (a three stringed lute with high frets), the Yi banjo [彝族月琴], the sanxian [三弦] (a type of three stringed banjo), bamboo flutes, tooth harps and a smorgasbord of percussion. It’s a wonder they can all fit it all on stage.

Shanren's logo. Easier to appreciate the epic simplicity if you can read hanzi.
Shanren’s logo. Easier to appreciate the epic simplicity if you can read hanzi.

When Sam said they could meet for an interview at the Sheraton Hotel, I was somewhat puzzled. Aren’t these guys based in Beijing now? Why are they at a five-star hotel? All was to be revealed upon my arrival, as I walked passed the gaggle of Yunnanese girls in full ethnic headwear, costume and make up, past the illuminated signage full of curated snippets on the beauty and splendor of Yunnan [lit. south of the clouds] and through to the back room where the band had stationed themselves away from the formalities.

I shook their hands as I went round the room and asked them all to sign my guitar, bestowing Qu Zihan with a plastic bag full of Tsingdao cans, which Xiao Ou soon descended on with boyish glee. They seemed knackered, potentially hungover, and keen to wrap up what had been a morning of performing for people who were not exactly like regulars from their usual habitat of reggae bars and festival stages. Nervously placing my iPhone on top of a beer can, we commenced the interview.

Ai Yong was sprawled out on the chairs, while Qu Zihan was in a more able state to answer questions. “The band formed at the end of 1999, then it was on and off for a while,” he explained “at first, it was just me and Xiao Ou, followed by a bassist who is not with the band anymore. Then Ai Yong came along. And Sam. Then in 2007, Xiao Bu Dian joined in too. That’s pretty much how it went.”

Aside from the geographic significance behind the name, Qu Zihan says the phrase ‘shānrén’ also gives a nod to ancient figures in Chinese history who would choose to live a hermit [隐士, yǐnshì] existence away from the public eye, in order to dedicate their lives to art and culture. Think of reclusive but brilliant Tang poets, tucked away high up in the mountains, writing in perfect solitude. Kind of Romanticist in a way.

Shanren with some of their folk instruments. Photo from Jue Festival site.
Shanren from left: Ai Yong, Qu Zihan, Ou Jianyun, Xiao Bu Dian. Photo from Jue Festival website.

Though the band have been around since the late nineties, it’s only in recent years that they have released some studio recordings, including a self-titled EP (2009), the highly praised ‘Listen to the Mountains’ [听山] (2012) and their latest offering ‘Left Foot Dance of the Yi and other Chinese folk rock anthems,’ (2013) released last year to excited appraisal from international and Chinese music critics alike.

Listening to the album is a rollercoaster ride, underpinned by voices that bounce back and forth through the call and answer group vocals – a style that is perfectly realised through the crispness and succinctness of Chinese syllables. Bluesy hammer-ons and bends on traditional lute strings swim through the song ‘Thirty Years.’ The pop choruses heard in ‘Bi Li Tong,’ are starkly contrasted with haunting, dystopian wails atop bustling city soundscapes in the duel tracks ‘Wandering’ and ‘Lost.’ Hip-hop even rears its head in ‘Song of the Wa,’ featuring a rap from Ai Yong in his native tongue and record-scratching effects produced with a mouth harp. ‘The Crab’ is a reggae-infused mojito getaway, followed by the upbeat vibes of ‘Yi Wa’ which layers Chinese flute, rumbling percussion and loud group calls not unlike a Samoan sasa.

Qu Zihan saying it like it is. Image from Shanren douban page.
Qu Zihan saying it like it is. Image from Shanren’s Douban page.

“At first we called ourselves ‘ethnic rock,’ but it didn’t feel accurate,” says Qu Zihan of their inimitable style, “so we came up with the name ‘agricultural metal’ [农业金属]  partly inspired by ‘industrial metal’ [工业金属] in the West.”

The album is a triumph – the techniques, instruments, dialects, rhythms and melodies a cohesion of both the mountainous highlands of China’s south-west, and the influences they have encountered from lands of other altitudes – The Beatles, Nirvana and Bob Dylan were names that floated round the room.

“We try to bring the atmosphere of the mountains to the stage,” says drummer Xiao Ou of performing in a stage environment, “of course there can be a distance, but the audience can still dance and feel the vibe even if they are behind the handrails.” Xiao Bu Dian, who fashions a long plait of black hair, counters the point, “our music is not traditional – it’s a fusion with modern aesthetics,” he says “to me there is no difference in the delivery between being on a big stage and being in the mountains.”

Xiao Bu Dian rocking it on stage last year
Xiao Bu Dian rocking it on stage last year. Image from Shanren’s Douban page.

‘Drinking Song’ [酒歌] is Shanren’s signature track; the Chinese answer to ‘Bliss.’ “Xiao Ou probably drinks the most,” Qu Zihan says, as he ashes his cigarette in a recently drained beer can. “In Yunnan we have paojiu,” Xiao Ou explains, while cracking open another Tsingdao, “which is like baijiu steeped with things like quince, jujube, snakes and stuff.” Hold up, wait, what?! I was as perplexed by the concept of preserved snake liquor as they were by fermented apple cider. Laughter ensued and more beers were shared round.

Since forming in Kunming, the band have now moved from the fresh air of Yunnan to ‘the big smoke,’ where the phrase takes on a more literal sense with regard to Beijing. “That video was shot near Beijing,” Qu Zihan says of the video for ‘第五期,’ set alongside lush, flowing rivers and green foliage, “though these kind of places are getting rarer and rarer due to the pollution. Sometimes the entire region from Sichuan to the north-east is completely covered in smog. But most places in Yunnan are still good.”

Taken in Shangri La, 香格里拉, Yunnan last summer. The town was renamed after the mystical land in James Hilton's novel in 2001 for tourism reasons. Originally known as Zhongdian [中甸], it continues to remain so on most public buses.
Taken in Shangri La, 香格里拉, Yunnan last summer. The town was renamed after the mystical land in James Hilton’s novel in 2001 for tourism reasons. Originally known as Zhongdian [中甸], it continues to retain this name on most public buses.
In addition to the landscape, Yunnan can boast a healthy music scene, with Dali long having been considered the ‘hippie capital’ of China for musicians, while the capital Kunming provides a hub for local artists in the region. “I think the music scene in Kunming is great at the moment – nowadays there are a lot of music venues and it’s a definitely being included by more touring independent artists,” says Qu Zihan of his hometown. “There are definitely more opportunities for us here though, in smaller places there is not always an audience,” he says, “in Beijing, you just have to get on stage and people will be there to listen. That is the nature of this city.”

Mountain men. Photo from World Music.
Mountain men. Photo from World Music.

Shan Ren’s application for funding to play at WOMADelaide and WOMAD New Zealand were rejected by the Chinese Ministry of Culture – but instead of canceling, WOMAD agreed to fund the band themselves. “We are really looking forward to seeing acts from all over the world play in one place,” beamed Xiao Bu Dian. Hanggai, who Shanren have performed with on the Beijing circuit for years, played at the three-day camping festival back in 2011, which was extremely well received by the festival’s eclectic mix of sunburnt jivers. “Hanggai said WOMAD was a big platform for sharing music,” says Qu Zihan, “and I heard that New Zealand is where they filmed Lord of the Rings,” he added, “I wanna see that – it’s beautiful.” The boys will also be doing a cooking workshop at the Kunming Garden area, as fate would have it their hometown and New Plymouth are sister cities!

Xiao Bu Dian surprised me by with his knowledge of hongi custom and the didgeridoo of Australia, though the band are no strangers to touring outside of China – working hard with crowdfunding campaigns to get to Europe, South East Asia and the States in recent years. “Unfortunately we won’t have time to travel in New Zealand after WOMAD,” says Sam, who has been involved with the band for several years as a percussionist and dancer, “we are going to Australia for about a week, then Ecuador before that!” It’s a shame we can’t show off a bit of New Zealand ‘shan’ while they are here, I thought.

Typical me being a fan and having a photo with the band.
Typical me being a fan and having a photo with the band.

“Great t-shirt,” Qu Zihan remarked, pointing at my tie-dyed ‘大理风景’ [Dali Scenery] t-shirt bought on my recent trip to Yunnan. We talked about the rapid increase of commercial tourism in Yunnan, which was why they had been brought in to play at the Sheraton.

Ai Yong, who had been silent for the duration of the interview, uttered his first words.

“A lot of things have disappeared. Old villages are being torn down [拆, chāi] and local people are being told to move out. It changes people’s traditional lifestyles, but they come and cut down the rambutan trees, then smile together and have a toast. Even when we were kids I remember it being like this. Though it is happening not only just here in China, but all over the world.” Its not difficult to see what he means, when campaigns like this are fast becoming a reality. Note: apocalyptic music.

The symbol for 'To be Demolished,' 拆 [chāi] is a more and more common appearance as China work towards modernising the country. Image China Daily.
The symbol for ‘To be Demolished,’ 拆 [chāi] is a more and more common appearance as China work towards modernising the country. Image from China Daily.
The band feel strongly about preserving and maintaining the native mother languages of their regions, in an age where standardized Mandarin [普通话, pǔtōnghuà] is the expectation in schools. “In Kunming, there have been times where if you are wearing ethnic clothes and get into a car, they say Wa people have to give more money,” he says, closely followed by the only English of the interview: “…fuck you!”

The mixture of personalities and often-contrary opinions within the group is something I loved about Shanren. The banter and jokes that went down at each other’s expense – often dished out in a Yunnanese dialect, reflected the way they interact as a band who are never content to conform with one standard.

“There are some policies that give special consideration for ethnic minorities to attend school,” commented Xiao Bu Dian, who is of the Buyi People, “I think its okay.”

“Dude, you look heaps like this New Zealand rapper called King Kapisi,” I mention to Ai Yong, who has grown up in places all round central-northern Yunnan like Dali, Lijiang and Kunming. Turns out, the Wa People are of the Austronesian ethnic group, who have connections to the migratory history to the Pacific Islands.

“Stay and eat with us!” they warmly entreated at the end of the ‘official’ interview, exuding that warm hospitality that is often bestowed by the Chinese, “really, you should come and eat a bit.” Having had such a great time with them and even jamming some guitars, how could I refuse?!

Woah. A large banquet hall was set up for the ‘Colourful Yunnan: Quality Travel’ [七彩云南: 品质旅游] event, a Sims build mode-esque theme song played on repeat over the speakers while delegates in suits and cocktail dresses chattered away exchanging business cards beneath the faux chandeliers. Once we had sufficiently ravaged the buffet of vegetables, meats, seafoods, snacks, eggs, salads, cakes and fresh fruits, a high heeled hostess addressed the table in extremely polite putonghua and presented each of us with beverages and glasses with robot like efficiency. “There’s no word for ‘cheesy’ in Chinese,” Sam laughed, “I’ve been trying to explain it to them for years, but they have no concept of it.”

Having a feed with Shanren at the Colourful Yunnan expo.
Having a feed with the boys at the Colourful Yunnan expo.

Having visited Yunnan as a tourist, it was insane to see the other side it – the industry behind those upcoming, half-completed luxury resorts in Xishuangbanna. “What do you think of these adverts?” I asked Qu Zihan, as I shoveled more vegetable rice into my mouth. “They’re so boring,” [非常无聊, fēicháng wúliáo] he said, flicking through the glossy picture advertisements of Yunnan tourist statistics and new developments.

While the left foot is dancing the Yi, the right foot is treading a distinctive path of its own – and the world is listening.

Shanren. They are the ones truly representing Yunnan.

Shanren Schedule for WOMAD this weekend:

  • FRI 14th March: 8.15pm @ Chimney Stage

  • SAT 1pm @ Dell Stage – doing a workshop!

  • SAT 4pm @ Taste the World – doing a cooking class!

  • SUN 4pm @ Chimney Stage

Special thanks to Lin Yin for her help with transcribing and translation, Sam for sussing the meeting, Colourful Yunnan for the free food and of course the Shanren boys for being champs! See you at WOMAD!