Five years ago, bassist Huang Yong, who lives in Beijing, toured Croatia with his jazz band. Two things impressed him the most: the beautiful coastal views and the impromptu jamming with local jazz musicians in some of the most popular live-music venues.
He will again perform in Croatia at the Pula Arena on Friday. One of the most famous and popular locations in Pula, the venue is a 2,000-year-old amphitheater where ancient Romans watched gladiator fights. It now hosts some of the finest international musicians.
Instead of performing with his jazz band, the veteran bassist this time is playing with Haya, an award-winning world music ensemble whose musicians are all ethnic Mongolians.
"It will be the first time for the band to perform in Croatia, which is exciting for us," says Zhang Quansheng, the morinkhuur (horse-head fiddle) player of Haya, who founded the band in 2006.
As part of the Croatia Meets China－Silk Road China Ethnic Music Festival, Haya will perform the hits, including Silent Sky and Flying Eagle, which combines traditional Mongolian sounds with other musical elements, especially contemporary music.
"What we make is world music based on Mongolian traditions," Zhang says. "I wanted our music to appeal to not just Mongolians. From our experience of performing abroad, we have achieved that goal."
The band has performed throughout China and in countries, including Sweden, Germany and Canada.
In the Mongolian language, haya means "the edge". It is a metaphor for the nomadic lifestyle that has become rare today.
"We met decades ago at a small bar in Beijing. I was impressed by the band's leading vocalist Daiqing Tana's voice," recalls Huang. "In their music, the band sings about nature, brotherhood, love and ancestors. I believe the audience in Croatia will love the music, which talks about universal topics."
As the director of the Croatia Meets China－Silk Road China Ethnic Music Festival, which marks the 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Huang has also invited two other musicians from China to the event, pianist Wu Muye and composer Li Zhihui.
Li, who combines elements of the music of China's ethnic groups with Western contemporary musical elements, will introduce his music, which is inspired by China's landscapes and combines traditional Chinese instruments, such as the bamboo flute and electronic music.
Classical pianist Wu, who graduated from the Paris National Superior Music Institution, will give a solo performance, including Chopin's The Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op 53 and the Yellow River Piano Concerto, which was rearranged in a collaboration between musicians Yin Chengzhong and Chu Wanghua in 1969 based on the Yellow River Cantata written by composer Xian Xinghai in 1939.
"An important part of the development of China's music scene is the variety. Musicians break conventions and create original sounds and we want to share this with the world," says Huang, adding that he plans to take the festival to other countries next year.
Huang is also the founder of the Beijing Nine Gates Jazz Festival, one of the earliest events devoted to promoting Chinese jazz musicians. The festival, now in its 12th year, will be held in Beijing in October.