Guzheng Beats

“Into The Wind” by Guzheng performer/composer Bei Bei He and Ubiquity producer Shawn Lee marries a unique blend of ancient tradition with studio trickery. This uplifting, genre-bending sound clash, recalls the afro centric harping of Dorothy Ashby and hypnotic spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane. With Lee adding equal doses of hip hop, electric jazz, and soul sensibility to the backing tracks, the captivating sound of Bei Bei’s Guzheng comes alive on peaceful mellow joints as much as it does on Kung-Fu flavored funk tunes.

Falling in love with the 5 foot tall x 1 foot wide 21-stringed Chinese instrument at first sight, Bei Bei began playing at the age of seven. While studying the Guzheng at a music conservatory in Hong Kong in 2002, Bei Bei developed an interest in jazz and groove-based music and hoped to make those styles with her instrument one day. Eight years later, now residing in Southern California, Bei Bei was contacted by Shawn Lee about making a record in the way she’d previously dreamed of, and she jumped at the opportunity.

These days it’s not uncommon for artists to swap tracks and build tunes over the internet. But, in this case, the artists had to drop their guards, throw caution to the wind, and learn about each other’s very different crafts as they went. Meeting only once (over pancakes and ice tea at an iHop in Huntington Beach!) the two emailed and swapped files for about a year to complete the record.

“Shawn was inspired by some of the traditional music that I play,” she explains. “It took both of us being committed, fully self-expressed, inspired, connected to make this album happen.” she adds.

The initial burst of inspiration led to the birth of early pieces like “Make Me Stronger” and “Bei’s Bossa”, which were new creations based on ancient tunes. The label was so excited by these two that they shared them with label mates and this is how Georgia Anne Muldrow ended up singing on the entrancing “Make Me Stronger”, and later on “Willingness”.

However, further collaboration between Bei Bei and Lee became more challenging. “I had trouble following the key changes in “The Ambush” because the Guzheng is conventionally tuned into a pentatonic scale without the 4th and the 7th of each key. That would not allow me to play pieces like this.” she explains. “After many experiments, I tuned each octave on my instrument into its own diatonic scale, and it worked perfectly.”

Swapping notes with each addition and change, they made their way through eleven tracks. The title track was the last track to be completed, and also became the opening track on the album. But it almost didn’t happen. Lee had made the basis of “Into The Wind” which sounds very different from the finished version. Bei Bei got a serious dose of writers block and wanted to give up. But Lee encouraged Lee to make any changes she wanted. “His words pumped me up, so I put myself together and went back to my instrument until the last note was recorded. This is true teamwork that takes part not only in the art, but also in the human spirit,” says Bei Bei.

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