The Xi’An Sí. Chinese - Irish Music.
It is not always easy to define traditional music. More often than not it is rooted in the oral tradition. The songs are old and tend to commemorate some personal or historical event of significance. Most notably though, the music is linked to a particular culture or region.
The sound of a certain timbre, rhythm, or scale structure allows us to instantly assign a piece of music to its antecedent culture. The history of such a culture will inevitably have a bearing on its music. It is common knowledge that the histories of both Ireland and China are more than just geographically distant. Linguistically and culturally the differences are considerable. It is also no secret however, that there are harmonious similarities to be heard within the musical traditions of both regions.
Raised within the Eastern tradition, it was not until Li Kai had graduated from the prestigious Xi\'An Conservatory of Music in 2004 that she encountered Irish music for the first time. Her time in Xi\'An had been spent studying and performing traditional Chinese pieces with the other members of the group, all of whom were students of the conservatory. However, it was not until they had completed their studies and had set out on the road to professional musicianship, that the true foundations of The Xi’An Sí ensemble were set in place.
While teaching in the Yellow river conservatory in Henan province Li Kai had a chance encounter with an Irishman, David Keohane, in a music shop in Zhengzhou city. Li Kai quickly agreed to teach David the music of the ancient Gu Zheng in exchange for him introducing her to the traditional music of Ireland. Instantly struck by the common beauty shared by both musical styles, she soon discovered that the colourful tones of Irish traditional music could find a welcoming home within the distinctly Chinese timbres of her beloved Gu Zheng. A visit to Ireland in 2005 further introduced her to some of Ireland\'s older traditional airs as she found herself captivated by pieces such as Marbhna Luimní and The Coolin. It was at this time that Li Kai realized that Irish music had an enduring soul that was worth exploring further.
She returned to Ireland in 2006 where she arranged and recorded a few solo Irish pieces on the Gu Zheng. These were broadcast, with some of her traditional Chinese recordings, on various radio stations around Ireland.
Finally, in 2007, she decided to record a full album of Irish music played entirely on Chinese instruments. She returned to China in August with her husband David who arranged 12 traditional Irish pieces consisting of airs, hornpipes and jigs, for the Gu Zheng, Er Hu, Pi Pa and Di Zi. After reuniting her previously untitled ensemble of friends, they quickly christened themselves \'The Xi’An Sí\' and recorded The Xi\'An Sessions during the winter months of 2007 / 2008.
The name The Xi’An Sí (phonetically pronounced \'Shee Ann Shee\') is an amalgamation of both the Chinese and Irish languages. \'Xi\'An\' being the city where the group first established themselves, and \'Sí\' being derived from that most fascinating of Irish traditions, the fairy.
The Xi\'An Sessions: where Irish and Chinese music went from pen pals, to best friends.