Below is a personal narrative about the beginnings of the project that I was asked to write for a documentary we are filming. The tone of the piece is better for a voice-over in a film, but this will do for now.
The seed of this project was planted while I was living in the Chinese countryside—in a place called Village #10 in Luoxi Township, Sichuan Province.
It was a research grant that brought me there. I was learning about how the mass migration of young people from the countryside to cities—what many call the largest-scale movement of human beings in history– affects rural life. My village was typical, what the Chinese call a 386199 village. 386199 refers to three holidays celebrated in China: 3-8, or March 8th is International Woman’s Day; June 1st is International Children’s Day; and September 9th is Double Ninth Festival, a festival for caring for the elderly. A 386199 village refers to place where most people have gone to work temporary jobs in the cities, and only the elderly, the young, and some women stay behind.
In my village, most kids were bored and uninspired. The cities drained out many capable teachers and role models, and many talented children had no way of developing their interests and skills. Extracurricular activities are almost non-existent in the community I lived in, which helps fuel a drug and violence problems.
The initial idea for this project came from the people of #10 Village. Everyone there knew I was a musician— and my friends were always asking me to play music with their kids. Eventually, local school officials asked if I would be interested in holding a music camp at the elementary school and maybe even help them start a music class.
As I started organizing this camp, many of my friends offered their help—this includes many members of the Afro-Latin band I play with in the USA, who decided to come to China this summer and volunteer.
Once we gained a clearer picture of what it was going to look like, more schools and organizations became interested in participating. The project expanded quicker than I thought it ever would. My friend Jon Kaiman helped me find a school in Lugu Lake that was interested in a music camp and starting a music class; the Chengdu YMCA helped arrange activities at a school they work with; the Chinese NGO Sunrise Library connected me with six of their schools. By the end, my friends and I were putting on 10 events at different schools in rural China. After raising some money by asking family, friends, NGOs and playing benefit shows with my band, the Unity Rural Music Project was ready to get started.