Wu Fei at Crosstown Arts 

Wu Fei's not the easiest artist to describe. On one hand, she's a traditionalist — a master of the guzheng, the plucked Chinese instrument with a history going back thousands of years. But the Beijing-born, San Francisco-educated, and Nashville-based composer isn't constrained by tradition. If you've only heard her work with John Zorn or watched the video where she improvises with a speeding train, you might identify her with edgy jazz. If you've caught her jamming with folk singer and banjo picker Abigail Washburn, she sounds like the future of bluegrass. Of course, she's both and neither and so much more. She's also performing an intimate concert at Crosstown Arts this week, talking about her instrument and all the nifty things you can do with 21 bendable strings and a big hollow body.

Fei's trip down I-40 is courtesy of Sonosphere, an eclectic and detail-minded music podcast out of Memphis. The concert has been in the works since the show's hosts Christopher Williams and Amy Schaftlein were both mesmerized by Fei's approach to the guzheng while attending Knoxville's Big Ears music festival.

click to enlarge Wu Fei
  • Wu Fei

"Big Ears was kinda our first venture out to collect interviews and build content," Williams says. "And Wu Fei was so personable. The whole time I was thinking there has to be a way to bring her to Memphis." Schaftlein was impressed by the show's interactivity, and when Crosstown Arts approached the podcasters to talk programming, Fei seemed like a perfect fit.

"We thought maybe we can curate a performance," Schaftlein says.

The guzheng, or Chinese zither, is a versatile instrument that's plucked, scraped, hammered, and played with any number of tools to create beautiful melodies, pounding rhythms, and wild textures. The infectiously enthusiastic and unconventional Fei has been known to incorporate everything from bottleneck slides to rubber balls.

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