Top of the World: Wu Man – Music of Central Asia Vol.10: Borderlands – Wu Man & Master Musicians from the Silk Route
Words by Simon Broughton
Since 2006, the Aga Khan Music Initiative has produced a series of albums highlighting the musical traditions of Central Asia, both traditional and contemporary. The ten CD/DVDs have been exemplary in many ways – in their production and presentation as well as in the music from a region that is sadly under-represented in concert and on disc. Four of them have been Top of the World reviews, including this. Borderlands, the final release in the series, is an encounter between Chinese pipa (lute) virtuoso.
Wu Man and fellow instrumentalists and vocalists from the ‘borderlands’ to the west – mainly Tajik and Uyghur musicians from Chinese Xinjiang. The opening track, ‘Improvisation for Three and a Half Instruments’, neatly illustrates the concept, with Wu Man adding delicate pipa improvisations over the soft plucks of the Tajik dutar and the deep, sonorous sound of the sato-tanbur – which is almost two instruments in one, being both plucked and bowed, hence the extra ‘half’ in the track’s title. It’s sublimely beautiful and takes the music into new textures and directions while being deeply rooted in tradition.
On ‘Chebiyat’ Wu Man plays alongside Abdulla Majnun on the diltar, an extraordinary hybrid he created combining the Uyghur tanbur and bowed satar in one double-necked instrument. The music, derived from the classical shashmaqam tradition is austere but beautiful. More folk-like and popular is the music of Uyghur singer Sanubar Tursun, who appears on five tracks, with ‘Biderding’ (Only Pain) being particularly seductive. ‘Kazakh Song’ is an arrangement for Wu Man of a piece by Kazakh maestro Mamer. It actually sounds the least profound of the pieces here. Much of this music comes from traditions that, to us, are little-known, which makes them seem difficult at first. But listen carefully and the expressive power and the instrumental skill comes across. It well repays the effort. The DVD features a half-hour film of Wu Man working with the Uyghur musicians in Beijing and a five-minute film with the Tajiks in Paris; it really helps our understanding of the concept behind this disc.
TRACK TO TRY: Improvisation for Three and a Half Instruments