Louisa Schein draws our attention to the popular success of a young Miao singer from Guizhou province (for the full article see: Hmong Today - 13 October, 2006). A You Duo (also spelled: A Youduo or 阿朵作品, in Chinese [at least I think]) is actually Hmu, one of the several groups that make up the Miao nationality (minzu) in China. She performs in both Mandarin and the Hmu dialect of Miao (the Eastern branch of the Hmong/Miao language group). Still, she is identified by Schein (and many posters on the internet) as Hmong--part of the transnational trend to include all Miao people in the Hmong ethnic group.
As Schein says in her article, A You Duo is more than just a pop star. She is an "ethnic performer" who utilizes her position as an ethnic minority in her performances. This includes singing some songs in the Hmu language (which shares some words with White and Green H/Mong) and singing about places, practices, and themes associated with the Miao people. In fact, much of her success has come through the promotion of Miao culture for regional tourism. Her traditional Hmu costume (featuring intricate embroidery and dazzling silver ornaments) is a work of art and a brilliant advertisement wherever she performers--a visual parallel to the beautiful scenery of Guizhou province she describes in her lyrics. Some people may find this commercialization of Miao culture to be inauthentic. But ethnic minorities in modern China travel multiple boundaries (ethnic/cultural/linguistic/geographical/etc) and are just as much a part of the modern, globalized world as anyone else. At the same time, they create continuity with the past though ongoing practices, like performing music and wearing special clothes. There is a definite sense of pride in A You Duo's work--pride in her Miao heritage and pride in being an outstanding musician who can hold her own against any pop singer in the world.
A number of videos have popped up on YouTube (search: Ayouduo) and of course, she has her own website: www.ayouduo.com (it's in Chinese, but here is a translated version via Google). Her website actually features a number of .mp3 downloads which showcase her amazing voice (translated music download page). The production is great, too--strings, percussion, synthesizers (often cinematic in scope). Schein mentions the phenomenon of "Miao pop," of which A You Duo is a part, along with "Song Zuying, Luo Xiuying, the “three sisters” A Sang, A Duo and A Yi, and Mee Hang." In fact, people from many ethnic minorities are currently involved in blending old and new musical sounds, especially young people who have left rural homes to work in major urban centers. In A You Duo's performances, she asserts her identity through costume, language, and topics, but also sound. While I'm not terribly well-versed in the intricacies of Hmu music, there are definitely some traditional sounds that A You Duo has brought into her style. Over the next few days, I'll discuss a few examples to highlight these sounds and discuss how they interact with musical framework of her performances.