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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, July 06, 2008
    Chinese Dub
     
    I'd never heard such quiet ambience on any stage at the Academy as the almost imperceptible drone, punctuated by long silences, which greeted us at the beginning of a remarkable evening yesterday. It struck me that it would have been more appropriate for the audience to have been seated in Lotus positions to embrace such precious sounds. But the Academy is a rock and roll venue and even at 7.30 in the evening the floor would probably be sticky, and you can't stop the extroverts in an audience like that chattering away into the ears of their companions and others standing nearby.

    Anyway it turned out that what we'd walked into was a temporary lull in the set presented by Liverpool's Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra, and that it wasn't ambient music we were hearing, they were just tuning up. Now this, dear reader, was the support act at the world premiere of Jah Wobble's astonishing new project for Capital of Culture year, Chinese Dub, and as Wobble said later in the night, 'some of these instruments are a thousand years old, you know, so they take a while getting into tune.'

    I said astonishing - it was actually spellbinding. Jah Wobble has proved time and again to be a master of cross-cultural fusion, and so it is in this current show. A collaboration with his wife Zi Lan Liao, international guzheng player and teacher of music and choreography at the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra and Dance Group, Wobble's show also featured players of bass, drums, bamboo flute, and the gourd pipe of Yunnan province.

    The singers pictured with him here, Wang Jingqi, a singer from the Mao ethnic minority of China (part of Yunnan province) and Gu YingJi, a Tibetan singer, contributed colour and grace and wondrous vocal styles to the mix, and each piece of music also showcased some other Chinese art form, including some entrancing dances and the stand-out piece of the whole event - the awesome 'Mask Change' dance of the Sichuan Opera. In this, the performers change their brightly-painted face masks so rapidly that it's impossible to see how, while making all sorts of other complex operatic movements. It is breathtaking theatre.

    Perfect to premiere in Liverpool, which hosts one of the oldest established Chinese communities in Europe, Wobble's Chinese Dub is now touring. I'm amazed that in this Olympic year it hasn't had a higher profile. Yet, that is. Once the reviews start coming in it may be destined for larger stages. It really is wonderful - don't miss it

    Pic: Mark McNulty Photography, Jah Wobble Chinese Dub