Dateline: 01/15/99

ASZA is comprised of four acoustic musicians from four diverse cultures who combine their traditions with the traditions of others. They use over 50 traditional instruments and combinem usical cultures within their unique compositions.

The musicians of AZSA are: Qiu Xia He, a virtuoso of the Chinese pipa; Joseph 'Pepe' Danza, a percussionist and multi-instrumentalist; Andre Thibault, Flamenco guitarist and specialist of the Moroccan oud and world percussion; and Randy Raine-Reusch, a Canadian born composer and multi-instrumentalist (his personal collection of instruments numbers 600).

I recently asked Randy Raine-Reusch some questions about ASZA, which he answered from his home in Vancouver.
Paula: You play a lot of musical instruments. How did you manage to learn so many? Do you have a principal instrument?

Randy: My principal instrument has changed over the years. I made a living for a while as an Appalachian dulcimer player, when it was popular, then I spent a lot of time on the Thai khaen (bamboo mouth organ). Now I focus on two instruments, the Japanese ichigenkin (rare one-string zither), and the Chinese zheng (21-23 string long zither). At this point I only play the ichigenkin in one piece in concert with ASZA. I do not play the zheng with the group, but tend to use it mostly in New Music and Creative Improv music settings (I have a CD coming out soon with well known Creative Improvisors Barry Guy, [bass] and Robert Dick [flutes] where I play a lot of zheng).

I look at musical instruments as sound sources for my compositions. I could not find players of many instruments to play my compositions, so I learned to play them myself. I can play so many because first - I learned how to learn - so now I can learn most things very quickly. I also studied, where possible, one-on-one with traditional teachers, and again if possible in the country of origin. This way I was immersed in the traditional rhythms and sounds of life that surround the instrument. As a multi-instrumentalist, I soon found that the more instruments I learned the more I could transfer skills from one instrument to another, so I started to play families of instruments, ie the Asian mouth organ family, or the Asian long zither family. There is still a lot of work involved to learn each individual instrument, but the basic structure of the instrument is familiar and many of the motor skills involved are similar. The rest I guess is talent, but I have never thought I was particularly talented as a musician. I have had to work too hard at it to think I was talented. Especially when I see some young kid rip and tear at an instrument they picked up a short time ago! (But maybe all us old folks feel that way about these young kids!! )

Paula: What has fueled your interest in different musical cultures? Randy: A number of things:

- I came from an abusive childhood, and anything that would take me away from that reality was great, so I spent time in libraries exploring picture books. There I found books on instruments and I was fascinated. Later I found recordings of instruments and a whole new world opened up.

- As I like to learn I have found that the study of world music is endless, and can supply me with fresh material to learn until I die.

- Also the richness of expression available in world music. Western music has a certain range of expression available to it, restricted by the cultural values and practices as well as by the capability of the instruments. As an artist, and especially one that due to my family situation has a wide range of very deep and complex emotions to express, I found that I needed to find ways to express beyond what was available in western music. A world of tens of thousands of instruments is perfect for me as if I spend the time to learn it, I can use any instrument I want to express my feelings and do it in as precise a manner as I wish. For me, there are feelings that I have that only a nose flute from the Kejamin people of northern Borneo can express. Maybe I was reincarnated from there, I don't know, but when I play that flute, part of my soul relaxes.

Paula: With all the styles and instruments everyone in the band plays, what is your stage show like? How do your recordings translate to the stage?

Randy: According to our audience our stage show is tremendously tighter and more energetic that in the recording. This is because we recorded this a few years ago when we were still a "young" band. We have a few years of solid touring behind us now, and apparently there is an energy that is generated on stage that people say is very "special". I know for me that I feel a connection with the band as soon as we start to play. It is deep and hard to describe, but we all feel it at the same time. When it hits us we all look at each other and smile. The the music really begins.

Basically we play the same material as is on the CD, but we have added many more instruments. We often come on stage with 100-150 instruments and play them all. In our recent tour to Asia (5 weeks to Borneo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Vietnam) we travelled "light" with only 70 instruments, but we ended up buying at least another 30 on the way.

We mix cultures both from song to song and also within each piece. We "ASZA-fy" a piece to add what we perceive are related techniques from other cultures to a piece (eg to add African influences to a Chinese piece with add a touch of Thai hill tribe music). We find deep relationships between different cultures, some historical (eg. African harps that made their way to China), some structural (eg. the use of cetain pentatonic scales and 6/8 time in a number of indigenous cultures), and some sociological (eg. the "wail" found in many cultures funeral music). We work with these relationships to build our music, and it often takes us 6 months to a year to finish a piece.

Paula: What are your goals as a band? What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

Randy: Our goals are to play, and to get our music to all those that want to hear it. We share a common vision that the diversity of the world's cultures makes the world a rich place. We honour and support that diversity. We also feel that we all share common experiences as humans in this world, and we also celebrate those commonalities. ASZA is composed of four individuals from four distinct cultures: Chinese, Uruguayian, Quebecois, and English-Canadian. We work with our commonalities and explore our differences. We hope to share that viewpoint with our audiences.

Our last tour to Asia was what we are presently most excited about. We received an overwhelming response to our music. We became almost instant stars in Vietnam, with an hour long prime time tv special done on us! We were heartened that musicians in every country came to us and said that we have given them "new hope and a new vision for traditional music". For them, we took traditional music from "something from the past to something that can define the future". For us, these kinds of comments were the greatest reward.

Paula: Have you ever travelled to any of the musical cultures that inspire you? If so, what was that like?

Randy: Both Pepe and I have travelled and studied extensively around the world. I have studied with "National Treasures" and "Grand Masters" in a number of cultures. This last April I performed with the Iemoto (Hereditary Grand Master) of Seikyodo Ichigenkin in Tokyo in an ichigenkin duet. This was an incredibly high honour to perform on a traditional instrument in it's country of origin with a recognized master of the instrument.

While on the last tour with ASZA, the band had a number of experiences that were quite interesting. For example, in Malaysia we were taken to do a small concert/ demonstration at the new National Academy of Traditional Music in Kuala Lumpur. After our performance we were taken to see a number of traditional instruments which the students and one instructor demonstrated for us. After they played, Pepe asked to try one of their drums. As he started to play one of the students joined in, then a few more, then Qiu Xia started to play one of the gongs and Andre got on another drum, and we had a big jam. I then asked the instructor to look at his surenai (traditional oboe), he asked me to try it, and I started to play the piece that he had just been playing, complete with circular breathing. The reaction to our being able to sit down and play their instruments, especially copying what they had just done, was at first total shock. Then they would laugh and get very excitied and then join in and start to teach us what we were missing in the music. In these situations language never seems to be a barrier, and we end up spending hours sitting playing sharing and learning. Both Pepe and I have had this kind of experience hundreds of times in our travels, and the whole group experienced this in every country we visitied.

At the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Borneo, we played our version of the best known piece from the sape (traditional boat lute) repertoire. We were nervous to perform this as it is such a well known piece, and we had arranged it for guitar, pipa (Chinese tear drop lute), Appalachian dulcimer (bowed and plucked), and percussion. We started the peice with playing the dulcimer like a Indian sarangi (violin), because of the raga-esque aspects of sape music and then continued with quite a complex arrangement. The response to the piece was overwhelming. People were shouting their praise even during the piece. It was one of the most talked about events of the fest, and we were told that "we took their music to the world, and still kept the heart of the music". That was very special for us.

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