Today we were invited to attend a rehearsal of the China Xinjiang Mukam Arts Ensemble. They specialize in performing the twelve sets of Mukam traditional music that was organized and standardized in the 16th century by Princess Amanishahan of Yakand Khanate who wanted to preserve this ancient cultural music. The complete performance of all twelve takes 24 hours!
We left the city behind us as we entered the secured gates of the arts and education center. It was beautiful gardens and flowing fountains and, wait! ... a statue of Lenin??!!! Apparently, the compound was left behind from a former Russian occupation...and they just like statues around here! We arrived at the rehearsal hall and trudged up the six flights of dark Russian stairs to the rehearsal space.
It was a powerful (and loud!) blend of voices - all in octaves - singing parallel with their traditional bowed strings, double reed horns and flutes of the culture, the harmony coming from the plucked instruments. Did I mention it was LOUD. All those unisons made for intense sound pressure. It was an honor to attend as this was the region's premier arts ensemble giving me a personal performance. I gave flowers, they gave me CDs and we parted with handshakes and hugs.
On the way out, I overheard what sounded like kids chanting. When I asked, they told me it was the english language lessons for the 9 year olds. I asked if I could say hi, and maybe let them practice their english on me a little (as I had absolutely no Uygur to practice on them). They were all happy to tell me their names in english and how old they were. Then they launched into "the chant" that I had heard earlier. It was a unison rendition of "one little, two little, three little indians". It didn't get fully creepy until they started going the other way, "ten little, nine little, eight little indians". Hmmm.
Later that same day-
We were invited to see some local Uygur hip hop dance group rehearse.
These guys were great! They were fully mixed ethnically with Mongols, Hans, Uygurs and others. It was nice to see and they danced great.
Then we were introduced to a couple of Uygur rap groups! It was a riot to see these kids show up, bling and all. Hats screwed down at whacky angles, and the hand / arm gestures down! When translated, their raps were meaningful, and went as deep into expressing their need for cultural and political change as they dared under the ever watchful eye of the government.
It was awesome to experience the range from ancient Muslim religious music to modern western secular pop...all in the same day... HOWEVER ...
Later that night, at Fubar, with me buying the beers all around, I had one of our new found friends corner me with a dead eye question: "Are you a believer"? I answered very carefully...and as Erik and I made to leave shortly afterwards, a few police cars came zooming up the street with their lights flashing and screeched to a halt just outside the bar. We kept walking, turned the corner and got the hell out of there. Bye, bye Urumqi!