Last week, one of my professors posted a link about a concert happening in Venice. The post was in Italian, but my eyes immediately zoomed in on the words “Dong Minority” and “Guizhou”. I could more or less make out the meaning of the rest of the blurb. “Dong Minority polyphonic music group from China’s Guizhou province coming to perform traditional music in Venice on October 16”. I was elated! I had been thinking a lot about my experience in Guizhou lately and missing my students and life there. This concert would be an excellent and rare opportunity to indulge in the familiar sounds of southwestern Chinese “mountain songs”.
And indeed it was. Prior to the concert, I attended an hour-long presentation by Joanna Lee, a musicologist who’d been recording Dong Minority folk songs as part of her work at the Dimen Village Ecomuseum in Guizhou where the performers were from. The ecomuseum was established in Dimen village to help preserve Dong Minority heritage (particularly intangible heritage like music), as well as engage the villagers in community-based organic farming and other projects. Aside from it being about Guizhou, the plenary session was intriguing for me since I’m quite interested in heritage preservation and my masters program has been focused on sustainable local development, which the ecomuseum strives to achieve through its programs.
The music aspect of the event was also wonderful. Dong folk music was added to UNESCO’s list intangible world cultural heritage in 2009, and rightly so in my opinion. It’s sound very unique, and as fewer and fewer young people are learning the Dong dialect and music today, efforts to preserve it are important. Here is a short clip of the performance to give you a sense about what the music is like:
The singers were invited to Italy for a week by the Giorgio Cini Foundation for the purpose of this one performance. I spoke briefly with the director of the ecomuseum who had accompanied the singers to Venice and asked her what she and the singers thought of Italy. (I wouldn’t be able to imagine how my students, most of whom have never left rural Guizhou, would feel traveling to a place like Venice) The lady said that they were enjoying their visit so far and trying to take in everything, which was all strange and new to them. Their only complaint was the food, which was not spicy enough.
Both the seminar and concert were fantastic and I’m very happy to have the chance to experience this truly intercultural and nostalgic experience.