A little more investigation at www.ayouduo.com returns some great free .mp3s and videos (.rm), some of which were produced for MTV China. [Google Translate is your good friend if you don't read Mandarin. Babelfish works well for translating webpages, too]. According to Louisa Schien's article in Hmong Today, her most popular song of the moment is "Flying to the Miao Country and the Dong Villages" (飞向苗乡侗寨), perhaps a reference to the growing travel industry in the region. The song can be downloaded from A You Duo's website here. It begins with an ominous drone and chorus of women's or children's voices followed by the introduction of what in the parlance and "world music" might be described as "tribal drums." At this point, a distinct marker of the Miao soundscape enters, the reedy drone of a mouth-organ: lusheng in Chinese (similar the Hmong qeej). The instruments sounds like it is synthesized rather than performed live, but the drone pitches and the active, jumping melody are maintained. [For comparison: listen to this excerpt from a record of Miao music available from Calabashmusic.com: link (will open a new window with embedded player); contents of the entire CD listed here.]
Unlike many of her other songs, which highlight A You Duo's incredible vocal range, "Flying" creates a relaxed, intimate atmosphere. Her voice is quiet, almost speaking, accompanied by an understated electric bassline and the Indian drums called "tabla," another marker of "world music." The middle of the song features a dramatic climax made up of the interlocking of the original choir and a counter-melody. I have no idea if this material has any relation to traditional Miao (or more specifically, Hmu) music. In general, the music seems oriented outward toward the "world music" market, making only subtle references to the sounds associated with Miao culture.
Perhaps the most "Miao" song available on her website is 苗岭谣 (what our friends at Google translate as "Miao Mountain Rumors"). The song can be downloaded as .rm video (or you can just watch it on YouTube [embedded below]).
This song begins and ends without a steady pulse--A You Duo is free to develop a wide-ranging melody full of large leaps. This style is similar to the "Flying Songs" performed by various Miao groups. From what I have seen, these songs tend to be sung by young women and feature melodies in the extremes of the high vocal range. It could be that A You Duo is singing in Hmu in this example, as well. The jazzy piano fills support her vocal acrobatics without providing a definite sense of key.
Around 1:20, the band enters: a mixture of synthesized wind instruments and drums. As in the previous example, the obvious sonic reference is the lusheng and in the video, a young man appears playing a small version of the instrument (they can be several feet tall, as will be seen in a later example). There isn't a clear sense of harmony or chord progression due to the imitated drone of the lusheng. In the background of the accompaniment, the busy, jumping melody evokes the instrument as well. The lead synth line, with pitch bends to imitate an actual instrument, may have some reference in the real world, but also seems to fit into the imitated lusheng texture. Of course, it is the visual appearance of the instrument that truly marks this as Miao.
For sheer spectacle, it's hard to beat 苗岭飞歌 (or "Miao Mountain Song" according to Google.) A couple of versions are available, but the video version (.rm download) is really worth watching. The song is catchy and world beat oriented (featuring a rock organ solo and rap-esque bridge), but the production is outstanding. The stage performance includes screaming fans and a Miao costume fashion show, a staple of ethnic cultural renewal in China.
A You Duo can clearly hold her own in a variety of musical settings. It is evident that she is well schooled in traditional forms of music especially. Another clip from CCTV available on YouTube [embedded below] shows the singer taking on a more conventional "flying song."
Visually, the production is straightforward, but the lusheng (a marker of traditional Miao culture) is foregrounded. Four male performers flank A You Duo playing lusheng in a variety of sizes, including one extremely tall one. They are accompanied by double-headed drums and a gong: instruments that are familiar in Hmong culture as well. Immediately, it is evident that her singing style is drawing on a tradition outside of the Westernized world of pop music. In the upper reaches of her vocal range, she sings pitches that seem in constant motion--always falling towards more stable lower pitches. I cannot say if the arrangement (alternating with the male musicians) is traditional, but the sounds certainly are. [Compare with a "flying song" from the previously mentioned CD at Calabash music: link (opens a new window with embedded player.)
Previously: A You Duo - Miao Pop Star