5 March, 2020Print
Wu Fei, Abigail Washburn debut Chinese-Western Equine Epic, "The Roving Cowboy / Avarguli"
"The Roving Cowboy / Avarguli (阿瓦尔古丽)," the first video from guzheng master Wu Fei and GRAMMY-winning banjoist Abigail Washburn's coming duo album, 'Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn,' is out today. A stunning 8+ minute Appalachian/Chinese epic, the journey from confinement to freedom of the video's central stallion and rider invokes the drama and imagery of the rural "Wild West" mystique that is found in both Chinese and American history and folklore, visually drawing bridges between two seemingly disparate cultural traditions.
"The Roving Cowboy/Avarguli" is the second track to be released from 'Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn,' out April 3rd via Smithsonian Folkways. Produced by 16-time GRAMMY winner (and Washburn's husband) Béla Fleck, Rolling Stone called the duo's music a "pan-continental mashup .. that brought the similarities between Appalachian and Chinese folk tunes into stark relief" with its soaring, sparkling strings and bilingual vocals, and The New York Times described it as “two voices and instruments calling and blending across cultural distances that sound much closer on purely musical terms.”
With its subversive mixing of styles, the album is at once an homage to the oral traditions of American folk music and the structured musicality of Chinese court music. A musical celebration of the shared connections and human threads between traditions, the album was created with special attention to the historical contexts and often muddled or misattributed origins of the folk songs it features. For "The Roving Cowboy / Avarguli (阿瓦尔古丽)," Fei and Abby combined "Wild West"-esque songs from their respective traditions: "Roving Cowboy," which traces its origins to a 1927 solo recording of Frank Jenkins, and "Avarguli," which traces back to the Uyghurs, a Turkic-Chinese people and one of China's 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities.
Wu Fei said of her draw to the song:
“I learned “Avarguli” in 1994–1995 in my folk music class when I was in China Conservatory of Music High School. In my composition class that year, there were twin sisters from Wulumuqi City, Xinjiang (they are Han girls though). They both already knew “Avarguli,” being from Xinjiang. (We were about 15 years old at the time.) I remember hearing the two sisters singing this song in the dorm after our teacher taught us in the classroom. I thought the two sisters sang it with a lot more “authentic flavor” to my ear, since they were raised around the Uyghurs. It made a huge impression on me because I admired the two sisters’ extraordinary music talent.”
Abigail Washburn said of the video:
“A captive horse forced into service at the hands of humans finally bucks free and flies into the wind while the “roving cowboy” choosing to search for a better life in the west chains himself to an uncertain and “bleak” future leaving the love and connectedness of family. For me this video brings to light what the recording cannot alone, the eternal struggle of all life to break free from man made constraints and unite with their essence, an unbridled and purposeful future.”
And director Michael Graziano added:
"This video project came together quickly and in a highly collaborative way. We’re not musicians, but we imagine writing a good song might be something like our experience making The Roving Cowboy / Avarguli video. It’s our hope that the combination of Abigail's and Fei’s performances along with our equine protagonist’s journey from locked stable to unfettered galloping (with some healthy discipline/resistance in between) does justice to and evokes the high lonesome and also independent spirit of the music, as well as the current sociopolitical plight of the communities from whence the two songs originate."
This spring and fall, Abigail and Fei will be taking their guzheng-banjo songs on the road. Tour dates below.
Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn Tour Dates:
Thursday, April 2nd: The Music Center at Strathmore – North Bethesda, MD
Saturday, April 4th: The Sheen Center for Culture and Thought – New York City, NY
Saturday, September 5th: Blue Ridge Music Series - Winston-Salem, NC
Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn On the Web:
About Smithsonian Folkways:
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the "National Museum of Sound," makes available close to 60,000 tracks in physical and digital format as the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian, with a reach of 80 million people per year. A division of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the non-profit label is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production and dissemination of sound. Its mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document "people's music" from around the world. For more information about Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, visit folkways.si.edu.
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Official website: folkways.si.edu