Just as there are 12 months in a year, 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and 12 golden hairpins that represent womanhood in Chinese lore, Wang Xiaojing believed 12 was the lucky number that would help him conquer the world.
The famed impresario, sometimes called "The father of Chinese rock," is already off to a fortuitous start. Since its formation in 2001, the Twelve Girls Band, his latest creation, has taken Asia by storm. Selected from top conservatories and orchestras in China for their physical beauty as well as their musical talent, the group's members, draped in fetching, voguish outfits, meld traditional Chinese compositions with Western pop and jazz with tremendous success.
Like many crossover acts with international appeal, Twelve Girls Band has earned converts through an exotic, yet accessible sound and an instrumental repertoire which includes tunes familiar to Western audiences, such as Coldplay's Grammy Award-winning "Clocks" and Enya's "Only Time." Having sold more than 2 million copies of their debut album in Japan alone and scoring a platinum follow-up, the multi-instrumentalist ensemble now has its sights set on the rest of the world.
By the time Honolulu audiences catch the troupe in concert today in support of their just-released U.S. debut, "Eastern Energy," Twelve Girls Band will have performed in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and New York. Their first-ever tour in the West, they say, has been an eye-opening experience.
"What's been memorable is the response of the American audiences," says dulcimer player Yang Songmei through an interpreter. "They tend to get really involved in the performances. They might stand up, dance to the music, sometimes they whistle. Their mood tends to change with the music. That's been interesting and exciting."
"The American audiences have been very warm in their reception," adds bandmate Sun Yuan.
Though the group has been to Hawaii before as part of a vacation sponsored by their Japanese associates, it is the first time the young women have experienced the grand cross-section of American life on the mainland. "The geography of the country and the people are alike, because when I came here at first, I noticed that there's all kinds of vegetation: short plants, tall trees," Yang relates. "Some thin and tall, some stockier, kind of like how the American people are. It is a country with many different types of people."
While such a tour involving 12 distinct personalities, four time zones and a handful of hotel rooms would generate a precarious situation for a less amenable band of musicians, Twelve Girls Band has had only positive experiences during their stateside stay. "We're able to get along and deal with scheduling issues and other things that come up because we put all our personal desires and personalities aside to some extent in the interest of the group," explains Gu zheng player Zhou Jiannan.
"We're like sisters, really, and we understand each other's personalities and we work well together," says fellow musician Ma Jingjing.
Zhou, however, was able to meet with old friends in Seattle and Los Angeles. The happy reunions gave her a new outlook on the world and her role as a musical ambassador. "It was good to see them again," she says. "It made me feel that earth is a small place."