PUB SHOW: Wu Jinyan (left) and Wu Hongfei (second left) sing with Wu Jinyan's choir at a pub in Beijing on March 16 (KOU BAYUE)
When she was 23, Wu Jinyan attended the 13th China Central Television (CCTV) Young Singers' Competition in 2008 in Beijing as a member of the Dong Grand Choir. The choir comes from southwest China's Guizhou Province where the Dong ethnic group lives in compact communities. They won the bronze medal in chorus singing at that contest by singing their traditional polyphonic folk songs that have been passed down for generations for 2,500 years.
The popular TV show and glory did not make much difference for Wu Jinyan. Like other women from rural areas, she got married and had a baby in her hometown in Liping County. Then she returned to Beijing and worked as a waitress at a restaurant. In the summer of 2009, she met Wu Hongfei, a rock singer and also a Dong woman. They immediately became close friends because of their passion for Dong songs. Thanks to the help of Wu Hongfei, Wu Jinyan realized her dream of singing the ancient and little-known Dong songs in a metropolis.
Before 2008, Wu Jinyan led a simple life in her hometown. Her mother and grandmother are both masters of the Dong songs in their village. She has a beautiful voice, too. Due to the influence of her family, she received strict training in singing Dong songs when she was a little girl.
After she met Wu Hongfei, promoting the Dong songs in cities became their common goal.
"A long time ago, Wu Hongfei advised me to organize a Dong song choir and sing the songs in Beijing," Wu Jinyan told Beijing Review, "but I had no idea of what to do."
Growing up in the countryside, Wu knew little about the city, let alone organizing performances. But Wu Hongfei came to the rescue. She is founder of a rock and roll band called Happy Avenue. Steeped in music for a dozen of years, Wu Hongfei is well-known in Beijing's artists' circles. She decided to give Wu Jinyan a hand to fulfill her dream.
With the help of Wu Hongfei, Wu Jinyan soon founded a small choir, which consisted of her fellow villagers, four women and two men aged between 18 and 28.
At first, Wu Hongfei planned to promote the Dong songs in theaters. But theater rents are too high. After serious consideration, they made inquiries to some well-known pubs, asking for their cooperation. Fortunately, the pubs were glad to invite the choir to perform for guests.
Before their debut on March 9, Wu Hongfei sent a lot of invitations through e-mails and micro-blog messages to her friends. Out of sheer curiosity, some music fans went to see the performance of the choir.
At 8 p.m., the singers of the choir walked onto the stage, wearing the traditional Dong costumes in black and blue, silver necklaces and other decorations. They sang with their bodies waving slowly with the rhythm.
The choir sang six polyphonic songs for audiences that night. Among the repertoire, the Song of the Ancient Yue People dates back 2,500 years. It is regarded as a living record of the mysterious ancestors of the Dong ethnic group. Young audiences who are used to noisy rock and roll songs were fascinated by the ancient sounds from remote mountains.
"Fantastic! It is indeed the sound of nature," a young man said after watching the performance of the choir.
That night, the choir made a sensation, because the music was so different from pop or rock music. The pub was so crowded that hundreds of people had to stand in the small hall to enjoy the songs during the following performances. The size of the audience and loud applause was totally unexpected.
Despite the desirable response from the audiences, Wu Jinyan and Wu Hongfei didn't feel relieved with the temporary success. There are many challenges ahead.
One big question is how long the villagers' choir can support itself. "We didn't think too much of the future. We just wanted to make it successful in the performing season in March," said Wu Hongfei. "But the praise from the audience gives us confidence."