Wu Man is an internationally-recognized musician who plays a little-known 2,000 year-old plucking instrument called the pipa. Her passionate artistry and unbridled delight in introducing new audiences to her lute-like companion has earned her accolades such as Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year and multiple Grammy nominations, including her most recent album.
Though she travels the world performing and is even heralded as the leading ambassador for Chinese music, for over a decade she’s called San Diego County home.
“I was born in China and the Chinese culture is rooted in my blood,” Wu said. “But now I live in the West this rich culture also inspires me, nurtures me.”
This Carlsbad resident cherishes the area’s diversity and craved the opportunity to create something for the community she’s adopted as her own. The opportunity came last year in the form of a San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund fellowship.
Creative Catalyst Grants Benefit Artists, Communities Alike
The Creative Catalyst fellowship is a one-year grant awarded to local artists that gives them the opportunity to advance their careers while encouraging civic engagement in San Diego.
Wu’s grant project, “When China Meets Latin America,” was a series of cross-cultural exchanges between her Chinese pipa and Latin American plucking instruments, resulting in a musical and cultural dialogue between two diverse communities. Her work was in conjunction with the Carlsbad Music Festival and included workshops and performances with her cross-cultural partners, Son de San Diego.
“It was fun, really meaningful,” she said of her collaboration. “Their music is always upbeat and bright. Joyful, outdoors music that makes people dance.”
On the other hand, she said, her instrument is sometimes quiet, elegant and peaceful.
“I want to bring my instrument out of the box to do something different. Bright and joyful and expand my musical language and to share that with my audience.”
Fellowship Led to Grammy Nomination
Wu started the fellowship as an accomplished artist, but even so the opportunities she gained were life-changing. The Creative Catalyst fellowship project was the inspiration behind her Grammy-nominated album Our World in Song, which was nominated for Best World Music Album for the upcoming Grammy Awards. Even though she’s been nominated before, she says the world music category is her highest achievement.
It’s also the first time an artist playing the pipa has been nominated.
“When I worked with Son de San Diego a lot of folk tunes came out,” she said. “During the year I started thinking my instrument is Chinese, but what would it sound like if I play folk songs from all over the world?”
Using all plucking instruments, as she did with her “When China Meets Latin America” project, Wu created an album that puts a playful twist on familiar folk tunes from around the world such as Frere Jacques (France) and Cielito Lindo (Mexico).
“Some tunes are very popular, most songs people know,” Wu said. “But with my instrument it has a different flavor. Familiar, but also interesting, something new for the listener. I wanted people to hear that and smile. I want people to listen to the music and be happy and enjoy.”
Making people happy is a recurring theme among critic’s reviews of Wu’s performances. See Wu at any of her upcoming performances here.