Marvels of Chinese guitar tone hit Dar

Ladies from the Beijing Dance and Opera Company brought a piece called “Dreamlike Forbidden City” to brighten-up the stage, at the National Museum and House of Culture last Thursday evening in Dar es Salaam. (Photos by Iman Mani)


IT’S really strange how the same word can have two completely different meanings, depending on the language being used.

Take the word “Pipa” for example, which in Kiswahili is a “barrel”, whereas in Chinese, it is a four-stringed musical instrument.

The mere fact that even the shapes of these two objects are completely different, as is their sound – that is if one was to strike a barrel or pluck a string – should be enough proof of this peculiarity.

Well, local music lovers had the opportunity, last Thursday evening, to see and hear this musical Pipa, which is otherwise referred to as a fourstringed Chinese lute, here in Dar es Salaam, at the National museum and House of Culture.

It was being played by the famous Chinese young pipa player, Zhang Hongyan, who says she has devoted herself to the promotion of music among common people. Zhang, whose hometown is in Shengzhou of east China’s Zhejiang Province, started learning to play the pipa, when she was seven years old.

After attending the primary and middle schools affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music (CCOM), she was admitted to the highly-privileged music academy itself, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there.

With long years of professional training, today she is regarded as one of the most famous young Chinese pipa players. Moreover, she makes it no secret that she is “impressively devoted to improving music appreciation” amongst regular people.

On Thursday, she presented a solo piece called “Dance Music of Yi People”, which has been described as being, “Predominantly lyrical in character and rich of beats”.

It certainly was not coincidental that she had chosen this, one of the most popular solo pipa pieces in China, for her presentation Thursday’s Performing Arts (PA) extravaganza, here, which was billed as a “Night of Beijing”. In fact, Zhang was one out of 11 acts that took the stage that evening.

The previous afternoon, which was set aside for rehearsals before the big day, the ‘Daily News’ had the opportunity of finding out a little more about her and - as far as Kiswahili is concerned - strangesounding named instrument, in a conversation.

With pride, she mentions playing this instrument for over 30 years, having got her beginning from her father, who was her first teacher. “The pipa is my major and favourite instrument but I also play the piano and some other Chinese traditional instruments.

It’s special because it is a real traditional instrument, which goes back about 2000 years,” she said with much visible pride. Then as if an afterthought, she added, “But mine is a new one, which I bought”. According to Zhang the pipa is one of the most important and popular instruments in China.

Part of its speciality, she added is that any kind of music can be played on it effectively. Her remarks that it can play soft melodies as well as hard strong ones, were demonstrated in her choice for the evening’s audience, which filled the theatre at the museum, to witness. On this occasion, as mentioned above the pipa player played solo. However, there are times, she said when she plays in various sized groups or even a full symphony orchestra.

Later this year she is scheduled to play with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Another comparatively difference that came out from the conversation was learning that in her teachers’ generation, the majority of pipa players, she says were men. However, This, she says has changed today. There are more women playing this instrument than men.

According to her this had nothing to do with any restrictions on either sex playing an instrument. She was given the same opportunities as a boy would have been given, she said.

When the ‘Daily News’ spoke to the overall leader of the visiting team of 76 musicians, Sun Bo, from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, he gave a more inside picture to handling so many people on one bill.

He explained that the 76 artists divided equally between the genders, of which the youngest was 13-yearsof- age, whereas the eldest about 50. According to Sun all the artists literally had prepared their individual or group acts by themselves and first came together last Wednesday, the day before performance day.

The artists came from the Beijing Dance and Opera Company, Dragon Style Kungfu Performance Troupe, the China National Acrobatic Troupe, the Beijing Artists Management Corp and the China National Song and Dance Troupe.

From the conversation with Sun it was learnt that this was the first time for most of the visiting artists to come here, which is a country he was eager to actually see. Now he has made it. From here they left on Friday for Dubai, where they had a performance on Saturday afternoon before returning to Beijing-China yesterday (Monday).

When here, they were joined by the Dar es Salaam University Choir and the Lufingo Dance Team from Rungwe District, Mbeya Region. This is not to mention Zhang’s solo performance and that by the award winning solo pianist, Wu Muye.

There was also a duet by Shen Yali, who teamed-up with local boy Ramadhani for a rendition of “Malaika”. Immediately after the performances the ‘Daily News’ took hold of the chance to find out more concerning her choosing to sing this song.

She simply said it being a famous song, which she has been singing for over 10 years is one of her favourites.

It made her very happy to have the chance of singing it on a local stage for the first time. It is just one of the songs in her repertoire, which is normally made up of popular and classical songs.

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