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The Naxos World label was re-launched in late 2019 and the catalogue is growing rapidly. This month we’ll explore some of these recordings. The occasion of Chinese New Year affords the first spotlight to fall on Naxos World’s Chinese music series.

Folk Music from China

Chinese folk music has a charm all of its own, even down to its evocative song titles, such as What is the Most Beautiful Flower? and Missing My Lover Boy (featured in the albums below). The sounds associated with Chinese music, particularly its string and wind instruments, have become instantly identifiable. Yet much of Chinese traditional music is not heard outside the country, and many of the folk songs of non-Han Chinese peoples are unknown even within China.

The Folk Songs of China series from Naxos World aims to correct this by exploring China’s rich and diverse musical heritage, with recordings of folk songs from all 55 of the country’s ethnic minority groups. The first four albums in the series focus on the many ethnic groups living in Qinghai & Gansu; Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang; Yunnan; and Guangxi. Upcoming albums will include explorations of the folk tunes of Taiwan, and China’s minority Russian and Tajik populations.

Folk Music of China, Vol. 1
Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu

‘Almost exclusively a capella, and largely for solo voice, many of the songs are pastoral in nature, evoking mountains and wild grasslands, and the deep connection with nature that arises from an agricultural lifestyle. Some serve as epic ancestral narratives, steeped in history and legend. Also present are hua’er love songs, wedding songs, as well as ruminations on old age and the passage of time. For the most part, the songs are melodically pentatonic and the narrative is conveyed through soaring melismas and stunning falsetto flips. The liner notes provide ample historical and anthropological context, as well as complete lyrics.’
Songlines ★★★★

‘The Naxos World label comes through with music of regions not as familiar to non-local listeners… We hear unaccompanied vocal renditions of songs sung by ethnic minorities from the tribes of Tu, Bonan, Dongxiang, Yugur and the Salar. That fact alone makes this release notable... a valuable addition to one’s folk-ethnic library … Fascinating.’ – Gapplegate Music Review

Listen to an excerpt from An Zhao Dance
Folk Music of China, Vol. 2
Folk Songs of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang

‘This … exciting new series from Naxos explores China’s rich and diverse musical heritage. … This second volume in the Naxos series features recordings of folk songs from five minority ethnic groups of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang Mongol, Daur, Oroqen, Evenki and Hezhen. As with Chinese traditional visual arts, song titles such as the majestic ‘Vast Grasslands’, the plaintive ‘Fishing Song (Missing My Lover Boy)’, ‘My Dear Horse’ and the lovely ‘Green Oasis’ explain their mood and origin.’

‘This is …more interesting than some of the modern rock/pop releases we listen to… this is proper singing. It’s rather beautiful, and certainly distinctive.’ – Review Corner

Listen to an excerpt from A Traditional Mongolian Song
Folk Music of China, Vol. 3
Folk Songs of Yunnan

The songs featured in this recording are folk songs of three of the minority ethnic groups of Yunnan province—Wa, Blang, and De’ang.

Listen to an excerpt from Sha Ran
Folk Music of China, Vol. 4
Folk Songs of Guangxi

The series continues in February with the fourth volume, exploring the folk songs of Guangxi.

Listen to an excerpt from Sui Min Tune Verse 1
Discover Music from China – with ARC Music

A useful overview of the diversity of Chinese folk music is available in DISCOVER MUSIC FROM CHINA – with ARC Music (EUCD2616). This enchanting and charming collection of Chinese music presents instrumental solo and ensemble pieces in a variety of arrangements from traditional to contemporary, as well as sung pieces from various regions of China and in different styles. All the main traditional Chinese instruments are represented, as well as arrangements with Western instruments.

Listen to an excerpt from Raindrops Beating on Banana Leaves
Lunar New Year Music

There are numerous celebrations and festivals that take place in China. Of these, the Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, is perhaps the most important. The annual celebration follows the lunar calendar (based upon the monthly cycles of the moon’s phases), and so there is no fixed date, although festivities usually take place sometime between January and February; this year the celebrations take place between the 24th of January and the 8th of February. Music is an integral part of these celebrations, especially accompanying lion dances and other street performances that take place throughout the New Year period. Several albums from the ARC Music catalogue celebrate the beauty of this music:

Heart of the Dragon Ensemble – Chinese New Years Music

A special album dedicated to the Chinese New Year. Popular and traditional Chinese New Year’s music from different parts of mainland China as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas. The album including new compositions especially composed for Chinese New Year celebrations.

Listen to an excerpt from New Year is Coming
Heart of the Dragon Ensemble – Chinese Festivals

For those of you who wish to explore more Chinese festival music, this collection includes not only tunes for Chinese New Year, but also from the Lantern, Dragon Boat and Harvest festivals.

Listen to an excerpt from Three Dragons
If you’d like to discover even more great Chinese music, listen to the Naxos playlist Journey to China.

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