“[Jen Shyu is] a new kind of improviser-composer-ethnomusicologist hybrid…[she has an] extraordinary voice and a circle of high level improvisers.” – Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
In National Sawdust’s Summer Labs, we’re giving ten extraordinary artists and groups the tools to develop and showcase a masterpiece they couldn’t make anywhere else. Tonight, we host Jen Shyu (徐秋雁): a groundbreaking, multilingual vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer and 2016 Doris Duke Artist.
Jen Shyu’s Nine evokes at levels both personal and global. The work was inspired by the loss of Shyu’s friend Sri Joko Raharjo “Cilik,” who died with his wife and infant son in an automobile accident at the age of 30. Raharjo was a master of the Javanese art of shadow puppetry called wayang kulit. His 6-year-old daughter, who survived the crash, is the central character in Shyu’s multilingual, ritual music drama. Time stops as she encounters powerful female legends–from the Wehali Kingdom of Timor to the Korean folkloric myth of Baridegi, the mother of all shamans– who become her guides. Sung in Indonesian, Javanese, Taiwanese, Mandarin, Tetum, Korean, Japanese, and English, the work reflects the parallels that exist between life and death, different cultures, and the importance of empathy over destructive assumptions that divide humanity.
NPR Jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead said that Shyu’s last album, Sounds and Cries of the World (Pi Recordings), is “no drive-by encounter between musical cultures, no cherry picking of exotic licks. This is research and experience, absorbed and reimagined.” And Ben Ratliff, writing in The New York Times, said of the album that “Ms. Shyu represents a new kind of improviser-composer-ethnomusicologist hybrid; this is the result of her own fieldwork … pushed through an extraordinary voice and a circle of high-level improvisers.” Works from Nine will be featured on Jen’s next album Songs of Silver Geese, to be released on Pi Recordings in October 2017.