Chinese Restaurants
Musical Journey

Musical Journey

BY JANET LUMB

Chinese Restaurants took Cheuk Kwan six years to make, and it took almost as long for the music to come together.

Cheuk was determined from the start to make his films into musical journeys. He would come home from his shoots bearing CDs scoured from local stores—Sezen Aksu, Ofra Haza, Astor Piazzolla, Abdullah Ibrahim a.k.a. Dollar Brand, Mercedes Sosa, Ali Farka Touré, Kaya, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Ravi Shankar. Soca, sega and raga . East African hip-hop and Peruvian jazz fusion. He wanted it all!

I’ve been playing sax for twelve years in an Afro-Brazilian band. I’ve listened to great Turkish music in Turkey , and I was even married to a Turk. World music is in my blood.

Dino Giancola, my musical partner, has recorded world musicians and has the best ears in town. He plays guitar and has an eclectic taste, from rock to jazz to new age to classical. He is the quintessential music designer, magician, and computer genius.

So I thought, hey, non problemo ! Little did we know that the timeline would be unimaginable. The thought of writing for so many episodes over a five-year period seemed exhausting. And convincing Cheuk to give it all to us was daunting.

Our task became even more challenging when Cheuk insisted that no Chinese instruments or pentatonic scales be used. He also wanted the music to be approached more like a music video. There are no major leitmotifs, but we did include some themes, colours, moods, sounds, movement and rhythms to support scenes and to unify each episode.

There were negotiations made, sketches thrown away and computer glitches and crashes along the way. But we did it. While we met with Cheuk only once in Montreal, our home base, we kept feeding him musical sketches over cyberspace.

In the end, it was not as difficult as anticipated. Cheuk was able to get the rights for music that he said was “un-duplicable”. We filled in the rest. For Mauritius, an unfamiliar territory, we even discovered a radio station over the Internet blazing sega music daily. Go figure.

It was Dino who came up with the idea of combining tracks from an episode into a single piece of music for the soundtrack CD. Cheuk quickly dubbed it “musical landscapes” – exactly the idea he had in mind from Day One.

To this exciting terrain, we added two very talented youngsters whom Cheuk had discovered along the way: Aaron Tsang, who started composing film music when he was 15, contributed Tel Aviv Techno , and Joy Lapps, otherwise known as Princess of Pan, weighs in with her very own Trinidadian steel pan sound.

What you will hear in this album are the fruits of our five-year, on-again-off-again labour. The exhilaration of having worked on such a project will live forever in my bones. It’s been a wild and crazy life, but I would do it at the drop of a grain of rice.

_____________________________________________________________

A musician since 1975, Janet Lumb has toured with bands across Canada and internationally. She has performed with dancers, actors and painters and, since 1990, has composed music for films. A great believer in the chaos theory that there is order in chaos, Janet continues taking chances in the magic of the moment.