Immediately follow the release of the new Tonedevil Bros. CD album this last May 2017, we had the opportunity to embark on a pioneering trip east to find out what the market is like for the harp guitar among the growing finger style community in China.
Thanks to our friendly hosts, and new partners in promoting the harp guitar (who own and operate the largest finger style web site and subscriber list http://www.fingerstylechina.com), we had a 10 city tour arranged for us as a sort of “show-and-tell” free concert series. At each venue we performed a few tunes and then let the audience, mostly composed of guitar students and teachers, come up and try out the harp guitar and mandolin. It was a raving success and the harp guitar was embraced by all who tried it.
The mandolin is not a popular of an instrument in China but got a great response from them, especially those with smaller hands. One of our sponsors for our tour was Northfield mandolins who make stunning quality instruments in Gaiwan (where we toured they factory). Their market of course is the USA, however they commented they saw the greatest interest for mandolin in China when it was played along with the harp guitar.
The Chinese love American folk music, and embrace parts of our culture as much as their own. Perhaps because of the limited access to our historical heritage, or perhaps because music is a common language they better understand, they have a huge desire to consume American pop culture and are growing to understand some of our roots music movements to reproduce in their own country.
We flew in to Beijing and immediately took the high speed rail (which we rode most of the trip) south east to Shijiazhuan. The school there employs many instructors and has over 500 students studying various instruments.
Seeing our larger than life sized banner of our pictures was worth a photo and made our heads swell (quite literally).
Our next performance was at Beijing/Peking University where we opened for the Japanese finger-style sensation Seiji Igusa. Inspirational, talented, masterful, and virtuosic are hardly enough descriptive words I can use to describe his caliber of musicianship. We had a great response and sold a few CD’s as well as had a guest performer join us on djembe for our finale of “Axel F”, which turned out to be our biggest hit in China. The dance remix of that tune became a club dance hit over the past few years so everyone knows it.
We had a day off before the rest of our tour and were escorted to the Forbidden City in downtown Beijing. Our guided tour was informative and filled me in that China was under German occupation for some years.
This could be when the CPC was first inspired as we saw evidence of Nazi symbols turned up on artifacts near the sacred temples (right). The structures have survived many earth quakes when other newer buildings have not. I should mention here some of the exciting food we tried were things you’d see on a bucket list and were many firsts for my brother and I. Some of these include duck neck, squid, beef intestine, kidney, tongue, goat, and hardened duck blood. Some were quite tasty, some not so much, what you could always count on was lots of colorful exciting dishes you’ve likely never had. We enjoyed tofu probably 50 different ways. All the meals are community meals, meaning we ate off the same plates as everyone at the table.
This brings people together and also limits the tendency to eat too much as we sometimes do in American culture.
One of our favorite meals was called “Hot-Pot” which is a bowl of soup broth in the middle of the table on a burner that heats up and boils. Then raw vegetables, meat, and noodles are brought out for us to add to the broth. You eat them after they cook for a few minutes by picking through the bowl with chop sticks and use a sesame/tahini based dipping sauce.
The following week and a half had the busiest schedule I’ve ever had to keep. Each day we woke early to catch the high speed train to go to the next city for the concert that night. We were greeted by the host in that city who usually had a store front in the town and employed teaching staff for their many students. It was an eye opener to see such a music scene so thriving. I’ll start a new post to give more detail about each city and host we visited, so stay tuned…