It may seem odd to have two American banjo players perform an ancient Chinese folk tune to welcome the new year, but once you hear it you're likely to be enchanted. This duo, Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck, two of America's best players, have a passion for Chinese culture. Abigail Washburn, in particular, has spent a lot of time in China, playing traditional Chinese music and introducing American folk tunes alongside Chinese traditions. Bela Fleck has been taking playing his banjo to unusual settings for decades, including the classical world and jazz ensembles and countries such as Tanzania and Mali, as well as China.
The two of them wanted to share their unreleased performance of this song, known as "Beautiful Red Flower" in English, as a New Years gift. And though we think of American folk songs when we think of the banjo, it's not so different from a pipa, for example, an instrument used in traditional Chinese folk songs.
Abigail Washburn told us via email about her love for this song and the significance of the red flower in China:
"Hao Hua Hong [ 好花红 ] literally means Good Flower Red. The lyrics of the song talk about the redness of the flower of the pear trees on the mountains above the Yan river. Redness is one thing when you stand at the base of a pear tree and gaze at one of her small red leaves blowing in the wind. Redness is a whole 'nother thing when you stand on the far side of the Yan river and look back at the mountain covered in pear trees and it looks like a great mountain of fire against the sky, all because of the small red leaf of the pear tree."
"Hao Hua Hong is an age-old folk song from the native Buyi people who live in the high mountain forests of Guizhou. I learned the song from a record of the artist Gong Linna called Traditional Chinese Folk Songs. Every time this song would go by as I listened to her record I was moved by the quality of her voice and the idea of one small red leaf making a mountain to look of fire."