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Day 85: Lijiang

Michael Palin - HimalayaHe clearly enjoys being at the microphone and addresses the audience in a mixture of Mandarin, Naxi and English, milking the laughs skilfully, in all three languages. I can see the schoolteacher in him as the orchestra sit patiently through a leisurely monologue that touches on all sorts of pet peeves. He makes sure we know that the Naxi Orchestra still needs help. It receives no financial support from the government. And he sounds a warning. Here on the Chinese borderlands, where Han and Tibetan meet, 'the music and musicians are in big danger.'

Young people change their minds faster and faster, going for Karaoke, rock 'n' roll and what he calls 'nonsense lyrics'.

At this point his voice rises and the teacher becomes preacher.

'The music,' he declaims, with arm raised heavenwards, 'is disappearing in the shadow of the Himalaya!'

By now, I'm sure I'm not the only one in the audience thinking that the chief threat to Naxi music might be Xuan Ke's monologues. It's at least 15 minutes into the programme before bow is laid to string or stick to drum but, when it comes, the music, a piece written by the Tang Dynasty Emperor Li Hu over 1000 years ago, is fascinating and unusual, featuring early versions of familiar instruments, lutes, three-string violins and cymbals, accompanied by high soprano vocals.

The only wrong note is the jarring ring of a mobile behind me. Not only is it not turned off but the man proceeds to have a series of long conversations into it, quite oblivious to whatever's happening on stage.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 85: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 199

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