Various Artists

Streets of Lhasa

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This album belongs to Sublime Frequencies' "street folk" recordings. Zhang Jian walked the streets of Lhasa, ZhaDa and Shigatse (Tibet) in August 2003, microphone in hand, accompanied by BBC Chinese correspondent Steve Barker and Christiaan Virant. Local folks greeted the travelers with songs, heard here interspersed with field recordings. The erhu (an upright Chinese violin) and the san xian (a three-string guitar) provide the main instrumentation throughout, mostly accompanying singers, but also occasionally as solo instruments. The most memorable tracks are those documenting a father-and-son duet -- the boy is only a three-year-old but sounds very confident about what he sings about and why he does so, even if his lyrics don't always match his father's. Their melody, reprised by other singers later on the album, becomes a leitmotiv of sorts and a representation of peace and happiness in a region of the world where both are desperately needed. Most of the songs are surprisingly well-recorded -- Zhang Jian recruited musicians and organized a little recording session in a quiet spot to record them properly, which has yielded some strong performances. Considering the resources available, there could have been a lot more of those wonderful songs in place of the long field recordings rounding up the CD. Then again, the latter also contribute to a different representation of the Tibetan way of life. "Bian Jing" immortalizes monks arguing noisily as part of a temple activity (just to show their life is not all about mantric drones and prayers). And the long closing "Peace on Top of the World" captures a man singing softly in the early morning, among countless birds and the busy quietness of the Tibetan plateaux. Streets of Lhasa may lack a little bite compared to Sublime Frequencies' average output, but the quality of the recordings makes up for it.

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