The Silk Road Duo takes their audience around the world, playing Chinese folk music and mixing it with other styles, including Brazilian, Celtic, French and Spanish styles of music.
The duo arranges every song they perform themselves, by pulling inspiration from different instruments and genres of music from all over the world.
Qiu Xia He started the group in 1991 — first a trio, then a quartet, then a quintet, and, eventually, just a duo. Qiu Xia He and her husband, Andre Thibault, now make up the group.
“My wife was always adventurous,” says Thibault. “She realized that just playing pure Chinese music would have a limited repertoire and audience. And so she started playing other styles of music.”
He shares Qiu Xia’s interest in experimenting with music.
Qiu Xia hails from China, where she worked as a performer and teacher before coming to Canada in 1989. Thibault is originally from Montreal, but both now live in Vancouver as they travel around the country and the world performing.
In the last year, they’ve played in China, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Ontario. Following their show in Quesnel this weekend, they’re set for another three-week tour around schools in Ontario.
It is actually their school shows that led to the opportunity to visit Quesnel. Thibault says he was invited to Quesnel to perform for some French Immersion students in town, and the person who invited him out then put him in touch with Quesnel and District Community Arts Council, who organized the show.
Thibault says each show will be a bit different, however. The school show will feature more traditional French music, while the family show on Saturday will feature some traditional French music, some Chinese, some Spanish and some Middle Eastern music, all mixed with different styles.
“It’s like a journey around the world,” he says.
Both members of the duo play a number of instruments. Qiu Xia plays the pipa, the Chinese lute and percussion and also sings, while Thibault plays the guitar, ute, percussion and a couple of wind instruments such as the flute.
They both enjoy experimenting with different styles and instruments, says Thibault.
“Sometimes in a Spanish song, [Qiu Xia] will play the pipa. And it’s never been done before — because Flamenco is very hard to play — but she loves it. We go to Spain and we study, so we have a very unusual sound that way.
“We play Irish music and her instrument sounds like a banjo all of a sudden, playing the melody. So we bring our specific colours to each song.”
He says they also improvise when they play. For example, he’ll bring more modern harmonies to a song by adding jazz chords.
The duo tries to make their performances as entertaining as possible, something Thibault says isn’t as easy when you don’t play pop music.
“If it’s not lively and entertaining, [the audience] will lose interest real fast.
“Since it’s something they’ve never heard, we try to keep it interesting to keep their attention. We have to be clever.”
The Silk Road Duo is performing at the Friendship Centre on Saturday, April 6 at 2 p.m. It is a family concert, and the doors open at 1:30 p.m. Popcorn will also be available for purchase at the show.
Tickets are available at Bo Peep, Circle “S” Western Wear, the Arts and Recreation Centre and at the door.