COURTESY ROGERS & COWEN PUBLICITY
Asian recording artists don't turn up often on the Billboard charts -- maybe on the classical charts, but they're rare on the pop charts. The Rocky Fellers and Kyu Sakamoto did it in the '60s, and Pink Lady in 1979, but that was about it until this time last year when Americans discovered the Twelve Girls Band.
Twelve Girls Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $35 to $75
Call 'em TGB for short, the group of 13 classically trained musicians from the People's Republic of China has a repertoire that embraces Western melodies as well as traditional Chinese music.
"Eastern Energy," the first album by the group to be released in the U.S., peaked at number 62 on Billboard's pop albums chart last fall. It was the first time an Asian act made the chart since Sakamoto's American album, "Sukiyaki ... and Other Japanese Hits," charted for 17 weeks back in 1963.
The ensemble was created in 2000 through auditioning candidates from China's top conservatories and music programs. The name represents various aspects of Chinese numerology and the tradition of female chamber orchestras during the Tang Dynasty. The instruments they play include the gu zheng (a zither-like instrument), a four-stringed lute, and dizi (bamboo flute). (Studio musicians add the Western instrumentation whenever the group records.)
"Young people should go out there and try something new," said dizi player Liao Bin Qu through an interpreter in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Daily News during the band's L.A. tour stop.
"We all started (playing) when we were little, but for me," said Yang Song, "my parents picked the yang-qin" (a dulcimer played with a pair of bamboo mallets).
TGB has captured the imagination of fans worldwide with their cross-cultural blending of traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu (a two-stringed violin-like instrument) with guitars, bass, keyboards, and percussion in creating fresh arrangements of familiar songs by Enya ("Only Time") and Coldplay ("Clocks"). The prominence of stringed instruments on some selections (flutes or percussion on others) evokes superficial comparisons to the post-modern Irish music of the sort played in productions of "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance." The moody sonic washes created by the keyboards add New Age elements, but the core instrumentation ensures that TGB ultimately represents the music of China, even when not playing music by Chinese composers.
Honolulu welcomes the group on Tuesday as they wrap up a North American tour promoting their recently released second album, "Romantic Energy." America will probably relate most quickly to TGB's reworking of "El Condor Pasa" (made popular by Simon and Garfunkel), but the entire album is exquisite, and the DVD tracks on the second disc in the package are a welcome bonus.
On this recent tour, TBG has been performing pieces by Beethoven, Mozart, and even their version of Dave Brubeck's jazz classic "Take Five," so Tuesday's concert should be eclectic as well as thought-provoking.
Fans can also look forward to a third TGB album sometime soon, the seasonal offering "Twelve Girls of Christmas."