[Full Disclosure: Jie Ma is married to Hyphen's legal counsel, Hung Chang.]
California-based pipa artist Jie Ma has spent the past few years creating a unique blend of music that incorporates traditional Eastern instruments with Western musical elements. Her CD is an innovative contribution to the overall body of American music. Her work is a twist on classical and new age genres, in much the same way that Shanghai Restoration Project is a combination of Eastern sounds with modern hip hop and electronica.
For those unfamiliar with Jie Ma, she is a world class musician who also used to teach music as a university professor. The instrument she plays, the pipa, is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Though her background is rooted in traditional and fundamental training from various masters, many of the sounds in her newest CD reflect the American jazz, rock, and blues elements and artists with whom she regularly collaborates and performs.
A particularly excellent piece on her CD, "Shalom Aleichem," is a great example of the lively fusion of multiple musical, technical, and philosophical sources. It's difficult to put a label on her compositions because her creations don't neatly fit into any particular genre. The pieces have elements that remind one of traditional classical music, new age, or improvisational jazz, and classically trained violinists or pianists may identify familiar Western musical themes or theory within the passages.
It is refreshing to see artists like Jie Ma evolve traditional music forms without discarding rich aspects of their artistic heritage or identity. While paying homage to an ancient Chinese instrument, Jie Ma has created a new, unique American sound which enriches the musical melting pot. Check out some of her music here.