East Meets West in Song

The sound man was the epitome of “cool.” His hair was pulled back in a ponytail with a stylish cap turned backward on his head. He prepared to help us record a song.

He moved the fingers on one hand deftly over the soundboard while his other hand held a neglected cigarette. The built-up ash begged for an ashtray.

Chen manipulated the various tracks that he’d just recorded of the “waiguoren” singing the Chinese Uyghur song.

“They don’t sound very good,” he muttered in Chinese, “but they are foreigners after all. They don’t have to be perfect.”

Finding Pitch

Two German international students, Peter and Matthias, stood to my left. While they pronounced the words better than I did, they had a hard time carrying the tune. So I struggled to block out their off-pitch attempts in an attempt to keep the melody going.

We stood in a soundproof room complete with professional mics and headphones. This arrangement allowed us to hear every sound coming from each other and the sound man.

Chen had ratcheted up the tempo to twice the normal speed. This made smooth pronunciation of the words nearly impossible.

But, after about 20 attempts, we managed to get enough snippets of sound for Chen to cobble together one full verse. This would suffice for our lip-synching Uyghur dance at the Women’s Day Celebration the next weekend.

Xian qi ni de gai tou lai,rang wo kan kan ni de mei…” (掀起你的盖头来,让我看看你的眉 – "Lift your veil, let me look at your eyebrow…") The traditional wedding song from the Western province of Xinjiang celebrates the joy of the couple as the man lifts the veil and looks on his bride’s face for the first time.

The Women Give it a Go

After the men were done, Caroline and a Zimbabwean student named Fiona proceeded to collaborate on a nicely blended rendition of their verse in about five tries.

Ni de yan jing ming you liang ya…” (Your eyes are shining and bright…) The wife rejoices at the joy on her husband’s face.

Afterwards, we met the director of the show. He had joined his chain-smoking sound man to further pollute the air. We drank green tea together and listened to the finished recording.

Then we met a lively little man who took us to another room to show us some of the Uyghur dance steps.

Xian qi ni de gai tou lai…” the verse echoed in our heads as we left the recording studio.

Little did we know then, but a powerful approaching rainstorm would cancel the outdoor performance. This meant we would not have to face the embarrassment of dressing up in Tang Dynasty costumes and dancing in front of hundreds of people! And yet, there was something symbolic about the whole experience.

Attempting to Blend East and West

Western-style director, choreographer, sound man, recording studio but with Chinese song, dance, costumes – the Chinese desire to have certain things from the West without losing their Chinese identity. Along with the western trappings, however, come western values that sometimes clash with eastern ideas.

I wonder if the Uyghur man is ever surprised by what he finds under the veil?

Xian qi ni de gai tou lai…

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward cultural situation like this? If yes, please share briefly in the comments below!

Image Credit: Splitshire on Pixabay


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