The scintillation of stringed instruments played by Barbora Xu sounds immediately identifiable, even though the pieces here are written by Xu herself. As she draws on both Finnish and Chinese traditional influences, it is easy to understand why her music sounds familiar in both Finland and China, though for different reasons. Olin ennen [I used to be] is a disc that brings East and West together in a magnificent way, alternating kanteles of various sizes with their Chinese relatives, the guzheng and guqin, all thousands of years old. There is a meeting of worlds in the lyrics too: both Finnish-Karelian runo songs and traditional Chinese poems focus on symbolism derived from nature.
The ten tracks on the disc form an attractive whole showcasing the ancient connection between humans, music and nature and, on the other hand, modern cosmopolitanism. Xu, whose European surname is Silhanova, was born in the Czech Republic and now lives in Finland. She studied local musical traditions in China and Taiwan and graduated from the University of Turku as an expert in Chinese culture. At the Sibelius Academy, she acquired an understanding of Finnish folk music. All these inputs can be heard in the profound virtuoso music on this disc. The scholarly approach is apparent in the wonderfully generous liner notes that provide background to the lyrics and describe the various stringed instruments used.
Extended techniques such as scratching and tapping on the instrument combine with traditional techniques to create a richness of colour. The kantelekavi, Xu’s own innovation, combines the balinkav of the Bunun people of Taiwan with the Finnish kantele; this instrument can be heard in the gentle Lintuseni [My little bird]. Xu’s powerful and versatile voice is to virtuoso advantage particularly in He Shuiyendong Yun and Enkö minäkin toivoisi [Do not I also wish]. On some tracks Xu uses instrumental multi-tracking, but basically all singing and playing was recorded at the same time. This is probably what creates the strong feeling of immediate presence on the disc.
Barbora Xu: Olin ennen
Nordic Notes NN 154, 2021
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi