Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn bring China and Appalachia togetherNoah Berlatskyon May 1, 2020 at 7:04 pm

Trump hates China in order to better hate the United States; by blaming the Chinese for the virus, he can pretend he’s not at fault for our own dead and our own misery. In that poisoned atmosphere, the new self-titled album by Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn isn’t just a relief but a call to solidarity. Born in Beijing and based in Nashville, Fei plays the guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither, while Washburn plays clawhammer-style banjo. Their songs are amalgamations and/or medleys of traditional tunes from Appalachia and China, with vocals sung in English and Chinese. Though the high-lonesome traditions they draw from were established continents apart, the duo’s keening voices and the sustained plucked notes of their instruments weave around each other in such a way that the synthesis seems effortless. On album closer “Pretty Bird,” Fei’s guzheng glistens like sunlight off feathers while Washburn sings in a harsh Appalachian falsetto: “Fly beyond the dark mountains / To where you’ll be free ever more.” It’s one of several tunes on the album, including “Water Is Wide/Wusuli Boat Song” and “The Roving Cowboy/Avarguli,” that are about travel and freedom; while people throughout the world are nailed down in their own boxes of anger and fear, Fei and Washburn have made an album that can cross borders. In doing so, they’ve declared their love not only for these musical traditions but also for themselves, for others, and for a world where people can thrive together despite those who seek to divide them. v

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