With The Wu-Force, Watch An Age-Old Story Unfold From A Phone Screen

Email a Friend
Joey Foster Ellis tells The Wu-Force's "Paper Lanterns" story through collage.

Wanderlust is at the heart of the music The Wu-Force makes and the lives its members lead -- but so is its opposite: homesickness. The trio's members, two American and one Chinese, are all inveterate world travelers who've forged unexpected musical connections.

Group founder Wu Fei, raised in Beijing, spent years within the avant-garde music scene in New York and currently lives in Nashville, playing her massive stringed guzheng with both classical and roots music ensembles. She formed The Wu-Force in Beijing in 2010 with Abigail Washburn — her clawhammer banjo-playing American soulmate — and Kai Welch, Washburn's frequent collaborator on keyboards and trumpet. Each player is a daring experimentalist who's also bound to preserve her or his native traditions — in the blend, bluegrass meets folk meets West Coast jazz meets Chinese mountain music. It's a music of borders and of home fires reflecting each others' lights.

"Paper Lanterns," from Wu-Force's self-titled debut EP, is a song of exile and exquisite longing. The lyrics, in both English and Mandarin, give voice to a young female worker who's had to leave her small town for the big city. She knows her dream of returning will likely not come true, yet she hangs on to hope, and finds strength in even the thought of her beloved sister. Within its musical swirl of Appalachian, Chinese classical and pop sounds, the song borrows a motif, a riff, from the Pixies' "Where is My Mind" – the perfect reference point for the psychic displacement of the song's narrator.

This video, created by Joey Foster Ellis (you might have seen his amazing stop-motion collaboration with rapper Moinina Sengeh, from Sierra Leone), delicately conveys the song's message in images that will pique the memory of viewers from any background.

The Wu-Force EP is available now.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.