Jah Wobble Chinese Dub, Bush Hall, London
Wednesday 16 July 2008
In a year full of cultural exchanges with China, this is the friendliest I've seen. Traditional dancers from Hangzhou, with their gliding walks and trailing sleeves, step neatly over the trailing cables of Jah Wobble's bass guitar. Chinese opera spectacle explodes from a tiny stage, masked dancers spinning and kicking to dub and folk music.
Jah Wobble has worked with musical styles from punk to fusion. This latest work, commissioned by Liverpool as European Capital of Culture, combines Chinese melodies, singers and instruments with dub bass and drums.
The most spectacular visuals are made by the mask changers. The technique comes from Sichuan opera, a traditional form known to be at least 300 years old. Like other Chinese opera styles, it mixes dance and martial arts, with high kicks and fierce poses. The mask changers wear elaborate headdresses, built up high over the covered face. As they whirl around, the masks change, the whole process impossibly fast.
The music draws on a number of Chinese styles. Wang Jinggi, from Yunnan Province, has an enormously forceful voice, belting out her winding, wailing lines. The Tibetan Gu Ying Ji has a strong, textured sound, moving from sighing lament to a chirpy number about happiness. The rhythms here are irresistible, her skipping vocal line mixing with the dub beat.
For the encores, Chinese performers join in with Jah Wobble's Western numbers, singing in a variety of languages. The Hangzhou dancers take part with goofily Western steps, rocking from side to side, shoulders swaying as they trail their silk handkerchiefs.
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