Saturday, November 27, 2021

‘Beautiful Red Flower’: A Captivating Chinese Folk Song for Lunar New Year

In February 2015, the bluegrass duo of Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck, who have a deep appreciation of Chinese culture, gifted the world for the Lunar New Year with a cover of a traditional Chinese Folk song called Hao Hua (Beautiful Red Flower) — but like you’ve never heard it before, being accompanied by a banjo instead of the pipa.

Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck have been hailed “the king and queen of the banjo,” and went on, in 2017, to win a Grammy Award for their self-titled debut album Echo in the Valley.

Fleck has 15 Grammies under his belt for his musicianship. And Washburn brings the love of traditional Chinese folk music into the mix. She studied East Asian studies at college, being the first person in her school to major in it. She speaks Mandarin fluently and spent time living in China after her studies.

Listen to the song here:

Abigail Washburn told NPR via email about why she was drawn to the song and why the red flower is special to China:

“Hao Hua Hong [ 好花红 ] literally means Good Flower Red. The lyrics of the song talk about the redness of the flower of the pear trees on the mountains above the Yan River. Redness is one thing when you stand at the base of a pear tree and gaze at one of her small red leaves blowing in the wind. Redness is a whole ‘nother thing when you stand on the far side of the Yan river and look back at the mountain covered in pear trees and it looks like a great mountain of fire against the sky, all because of the small red leaf of the pear tree.”

“Hao Hua Hong is an age-old folk song from the native Buyi people who live in the high mountain forests of Guizhou. I learned the song from a record of the artist Gong Linna called Traditional Chinese Folk Songs. Every time this song would go by as I listened to her record I was moved by the quality of her voice and the idea of one small red leaf making a mountain to look of fire.”

Yangzte River China and the mountain with some leaves turning red.
China’s Yangtze River and a mountain with some leaves turning red, the type of landscape that inspired this folk song. (Image: via © Jingaiping)

Here is the Gong Linna song Hao Hua Hong (Beautiful Red Flower) that inspired Washburn to do her own cover version with a banjo:


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Jessica Kneipp
Jessica writes about films, and occasionally gets to direct them. Music, photography, art, poetry, reading and travel are pretty good too. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel."

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