Wang Jiang dedicates himself to recording Uyghur traditional music

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-30 5:03:02

Wang Jiang plays a dutar, a Uyghur traditional instrument, in a village in Kashgar, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Wang Jiang

Two years ago, when Spring Festival was approaching and every Chinese household was preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year, one man arrived home after a hard journey and fell to his knees before his parents, confessing and offering an apology.

He had traveled from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, rather than Italy, where his parents had sent him to study. He had actually cut short his studies in 2009 and flown back to China for the sake of traditional music. He stayed in Xinjiang for three years exploring the local music culture before his family eventually found out.

Wang Jiang, a 31-year-old from North China's Hebei Province has devoted himself to discovering and recording traditional music in Xinjiang for five years.

"They must have found it hard to accept. No normal family could accept that their child would stop studying and wander around jobless, especially going to Xinjiang," Wang said, "But I never considered safety a problem. I love Xinjiang and want to stay here."

Back to the homeland

Wang went to Xinjiang in 2010. At the time, he knew nothing about the region except "raisins and muqam (a type of traditional melody used in the music of Xinjiang)." But over the following five years, he visited many places in Xinjiang to learn about local music, collect materials and record information about folk artists.

He ended up with eight hard drives of data and a book and is now recording a radio play. He has also learned to speak and write the Uyghur language.

But looking back, Wang said that going to Xinjiang was never part of his plan.

A graduate from the Xi'an Conservatory of Music, Wang went to Italy to further his studies in 2007. During the three years he studied there, he traveled to several countries in Europe and learned about their culture and history.

"But the more you learned about them, the more you begin to ask: What do we have?" Wang said, "I found there was little about my own country I could talk about when chatting with foreign friends, apart from things like the Great Wall."

Realizing he did not know enough about his homeland and feeling an urgent need to make up for this shortcoming, Wang made up his mind to go back to China in 2009, a year before his studies finished. He kept all this from his family, bought a car, and set out immediately after landing in Beijing.

Before that, he spent months making a plan, trying to find the best places for traditional art and music following the chronological table of different ancient Chinese dynasties "and Xinjiang was not included."

Wang spent almost a year traveling, visiting museums and listening to regional music, but became disappointed with the way traditional ethnic minority music was being preserved. One day, he saw an old man singing a muqam on TV, and was so deeply touched that he decided to go to Xinjiang.

"The music is universal and manages to communicate with the audience, transcending all boundaries," Wang said.

Voluntary scribe

Before going to Xinjiang, Wang decided that he would not be a normal backpacker, gaining only a superficial impression of the region. His hope was to go deep into local people's lives. He got the chance to work as an unpaid volunteer for a local art troupe in Ruoqiang county instead of Kashgar, the hometown of muqam that he had dreamed about.

"They told me that I'd better not make Kashgar my first stop, since it has a lot of ethnic groups and I would have problems communicating with the locals without being able to speak Uyghur," Wang said.

"It takes time to know a place and its people," Wang said. At first he found it hard to get accustomed to his environment, but he took his time. Besides investigating music, he taught English at a primary school and also wrote music and musical plays for the troupe.

One and a half years later, he was able to speak Uyghur and mix freely with the locals.

"If you love the culture of a place enough, you will naturally learn its language. It is a very natural thing," Wang said.

He developed a deep feeling for Ruoqiang, and saw it as his hometown in Xinjiang. When he came to Shache county, he realized that it would have been impossible to live there had he not learned Uyghur.

In Shache county, Wang worked as a volunteer for a muqam inheritance center and gained first-hand experience with the musical form and local folk artists. There, he decided to record artists performing their traditional music and visited over 20 townships across the county and went on to places like Yili, Hotan, Altay, Turpan that are famous for their folk songs.

Good brother

Wang now boasts more than 15,000 fans on his Sina Weibo account and many of them are Uyghurs. Touched by Wang's dedication to protecting their music, some call Wang "a good brother for Xinjiang."

Ilhamjan Muhemmed, a senior college student and music lover, said he admires Wang greatly for his efforts in protecting the music of Xinjiang.

"He shows great respect for our culture and music. I think he deserves double respect from me. Besides, he is a brave guy," Ilhamjan Muhemmed told the Global Times.

After living in Xinjiang for so long, Wang said that he seldom feels any novelty, as he has already become a part of the region.

"Today, what I value most about my Xinjiang experience is that I have made many friends there and managed to learn about their characteristics," Wang said, "Then comes its culture, muqam and folk songs."

"The people in Xinjiang have made me fall in love with this place. They are genuine," he added.

Wang finished writing about his experience in the book Assalam Xinjiang (Assalam is a Muslim greeting). "They are all my own experiences. It shows the culture, customs, history and music of Xinjiang from my angle," Wang explained. At the same time, he is recording a radio play of the same name. 

According to Wang, during the past six years of traveling, he has not earned a cent, no small consideration for a married man with aging parents.

"I realized it is probably not a job that should be done by just one person," Wang said.

Currently, he wants to sit down and finish the work at hand.

"I need to help my work reach readers and audiences to promote traditional culture," he said.

Newspaper headline: Minority melody

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