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Watch: Pipa Player Gao Hong and Oudist Issam Rafea Find a Common Language

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If you want to take a few minutes to refocus your calm amidst the harsh noise of this internet, here’s a short clip of Chinese pipa player Gao Hong and Syrian oud player Issam Rafae improvising in Northfield, Minnesota, of all places:

The video was made to promote the duo’s recent album, Life as Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China, released in May by the label arm of the American Composers Forum.

Both the pipa and oud are typically referred to as “lute-like” by the unimaginative Western music press, but each has its own particular tones, timbres, and cultural histories. Life as Is also takes the distinct — but similarly tumultuous — recent histories of the two musicians’ home countries as a talking point for their collaboration. From the one-sheet:

Both artists came from lands going through political strife — Issam Rafea living through the recent war in Syria, and Gao Hong growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Now, they continue to pursue their musical visions in the United States. They both are performers and composers and love to improvise, just like they have had to navigate their lives to survive. They both use their hearts to play music, and both believe that music needs to come from their souls and deepest feelings. Hence the title — Life As Is: The Blending of Ancient Souls from Syria and China.

Pick up the album here.

Cover image: Marianne Combs/MPR News

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RADII Staff
RADII (rā'dē-ī') is an independent platform of artists, writers and creators dedicated to sharing vibrant stories from the rarely explored sides of new China.