Building bridges between east and west is what young Czech musician Barbora Xu is aiming at on her debut Olin Ennen (“I was” in Finnish), drawing on millennia-old traditions to do so. The artist, who lives on a Finnish island, attaches great significance to the relationship between man and nature. It is important to her that already hundreds of years ago both the Chinese and the Finns used to pass on their traditions through the symbolism of flowing water and wild birds, handing them down in this way from generation to generation. Unfortunately, only small remnants of these ancient texts survive to the present day while the vast majority of the melodies and sounds that accompanied them have been lost.
Olin Ennen imbues the lively beating heart of these age-old Finnish and Chinese texts with fresh, new life by featuring newly composed melodies and unusual musical settings. At the same time, Barbora Xu succeeds in combining the sound of the Finnish kantele with the ancient Chinese instruments guzheng and guqin, the guzheng being more than 2,500 years old and famous for the sound of its bended strings. The kantele is the national instrument of Finland, which according to legend was created by Väinämöinen, a wizard using it to enchant people and nature and to fight his enemies. But Barbora Xu also manages to captivate the audience with her expressive voice which she keeps deliberately restrained giving the overall impression of poetry being sung.
“Apart from old traditions nature is an important element for me in making music,” the musician says. “Living in the forest makes it a big part of my life and a great inspiration. But it also happens to be the case that many traditional poems refer to nature, and most of the lyrics I use are nature-related.”
Over the past ten years, Barbora has lived in many different countries, studying local music traditions and collecting material for Olin Ennen. For two years she did on-location research on the musical traditions of the indigenous Bunun people in Taiwan before graduating as an expert on Chinese culture at the Centre of East Asian Studies at the University of Turku. Her education also included instruction in traditional zither and singing techniques by renowned teachers like Wei Dedong (guzheng), Pauliina Syrjälä (kantele), Karoliina Kantelinen (singing) and Outi Pulkkinen (singing). Currently, Barbora is concentrating on Finnish vocal and kantele traditions as part of the Global Music Degree Programme of the renowned Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
Barbora Xu has done live performances all over the world – for example at King’s Place in London, at Megaron Athens Concert Hall in Greece and at Turku Concert Hall in Finland. Her work has been featured on Finnish TV and radio station YLE, on the BBC, on International Radio Taiwan, on Czech National Radio and the Spanish Radio and Television Corporation, among others.
Also, social engagement is important to her, and in the course of her career, Barbora Xu has organized many cultural events focusing on community welfare and environmental issues. She took part in the British “Making Tracks” project, an exchange programme initiating and exploring music-based social and environmental engagement, and in 2020 co-founded the Ask Your Elders scheme, where artists contribute to help families share ideas across generations. Barbora is supported by Koistinen Kantele, the largest kantele manufacturer in the world.
In the video for her debut single “Olin Ennen Otramaana”, recorded live at the Sibelius Museum in Turku, Barbora manages to show how strongly the quiet, unusual sounds she creates are able to touch one’s soul in their synthesis of Western and Eastern traditions.
“Barbora’s music is like a unique bridge between Europe and Asia. The sounds of kantele and guzheng combined with her beautiful voice connect different cultures as if they had always belonged together,” her patron Hannu Koistinen raves about her, who also happens to be founder and CEO of Koistinen Kantele. “Her music seems to come from an ancient and pure place, from a paradise we have all visited a very long time ago,” says Finnish composer Esa Vähämäki.
Year of Release: 2021