A Canadian in Beijing: Sing for Beijing

I was told that a gig that goes right, technically, is a rare occurrence in China. In fact, when my show was over tonight, people said: “you handled that well!” rather than “great show!” or “great songs!”

The situation they’re referring to is the fact that the guitar I borrowed had some pick-up problems that I wasn’t aware of until the gig began and it buzzed and squealed intermittently throughout the set. The only thing that would relieve it was yanking out the cord and plugging it back in. I got quite good at pausing, muting, yanking, plugging, un-muting all in time with the music and without stopping the lyrics, but I have to say that I was extremely distracted! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. In the end, I just had to use a microphone on the guitar (below) which forced me to stand very still!

Isn’t there a saying about a craftsman only being as good as his tools? (or “her” tools, in this case!) But I won’t blame my tools as per the other expression (“a poor craftsman blames [her] tools”) but I’ll simply say that I was challenged but persevered. And, I did sing rather well despite the cigarette smoke.
My set was followed by Hanggai, an amazing Mongolian folk band with throat singing and traditional instruments. I was able to leave all of my gig frustrations on the stage and instantly become an audience member and I thoroughly enjoyed their music. Sometimes haunting and angular and sometimes sweet and rich. It was beautiful.

The first shot shows me in the last song when I was loaned a guitar by the headlining artist, Ramona Cordova. I had to sit because it was a strapless guitar (!) but I was really appreciative nonetheless. Ramona’s music is gentle and sweet and his voice has amazing range. I sat back and took in his ethereal high notes and relaxed stage vibe.

I met some nice people, had some laughs, drank my free beer and returned back to Wudaokou with humility. Here is a picture of my two Australian friends, Sarah and Jenny, who were there cheering me on.

I’m now able to say that I played some songs on stage in China. Before I leave at the end of this three-month stay, I’m sure there will actually be an Ember Swift show. I still have lots of time and this experience of building a brand new music community is teaching me so much already. For instance, the next time I have a gig here with a working guitar, I will definitely not take that clear signal for granted! Maybe that’s a clear signal to me to simply appreciate what does work more often. A good attitude? My voice? My ability to make friends? My ears? All were in fine working order at Yugong Yishan last night.

No complaints.

Photos of me performing by: Sarah Keenan