The musical traditions of China have been blended with jazz, blues, and improvisation by composer, author, and vocalist Liu Sola. Her recordings have spanned from multicultural treatments of the blues -- Blues in the East, recorded with guitarist James Blood Ulmer, Parliament-Funkadelic drummer Jerome Bailey, Chinese pipa player Wu Man, avant-garde saxophonist Henry Threadgill, and vocalist Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets, and produced by Bill Laswell, to psychedelic Chinese rock, China Collage. While www.chinasprout claimed that "this is not your standard Chinese music -- it is extremely contemporary with a strong multicultural influence," the New York Press referred to Sola as "the only Chinese artist who would qualify to play the New Orleans Jazz Festival." The New York Times cited her ability to "wander from echoes of Chinese opera to simple folk-like melodies."
The daughter of prominent figures in China's Communist Party, Liu spent her early life in luxury. An uncle, Liu Zhidan, was a high-ranking general in the Red Army until his death and martyrdom in 1936. Her family's fortunes changed dramatically when her father's comrade-in-arms, Gao Gang, was accused of treason by Mao Tse-Tung and sentenced to death in 1955. As the result of a scorching account of the situation written by her mother, both of her parents were exiled to a rural pig farm, where they remained for two decades. Together with her older brother and sister, Liu was raised by a family in the capital city. Music played an essential role throughout Liu's life. She began studying classical piano at the age of five. Although she also studied Peking Opera, she was drawn more to Chinese folk music. Entering the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, in 1977, she studied composition. A symphony memorializing her uncle, composed for her thesis, was performed by the Chinese Opera House Orchestra.
Graduating in 1981, Liu began writing short stories and novels. Her first novella, Ni Bie Wu Xuanze (You Have No Choice), was hailed by China's disenfranchised urban youth and won a prestigious Chinese National Novella award. Liu's first full-length novel, Chaos and All, written while she was briefly residing in London and published in 1989, was followed by Da Ji Jia De Xiao Gu Shi in January 2000. Her novella, Blue Sky Green Sea, was translated into English and performed as a rock opera in 1998 with the Chinese Central Symphony Orchestra and a rock band.
Liu has continued to explore a diverse range of music. She formed an all-female Pink Floyd-influenced rock band in the mid-'80s. She recorded a rock opera version of Blue Sky Green Sea in 1988 with the Chinese Central Symphony Orchestra, and a Hong Kong-based rock band. Moving to London later the same year, she formed a reggae band with British, Japanese, and Chinese musicians. Inspired by the music of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, who she first heard while visiting the United States in 1987, Liu returned to the U.S., two years later to spend time in the Mississippi Delta, meeting and playing with scores of blues musicians. She made her permanent home in the United States after being accepted into the University of Iowa's International Writing Program in 1992. Liu continued to be active as a musician and composer. Her modern dance composition, "June Snow," was featured in Michael Apted's documentary video Moving the Mountains in 1999. The same year, the New Julliard Ensemble performed her piece "In Corporeal" at Lincoln Center. Returning to China for the first time in a decade, Sola performed in Beijing and Shanghai and recorded an album, Sola & Friends in Beijing. ~ Craig Harris
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