The Conversation: China's Music of Rebuilding

Abigail Washburn used music to help heal the Sichuan Province after 2008 quake.

ByABC News
October 20, 2010, 7:18 AM

Oct. 21, 2010 — -- Abigail Washburn has always had a special connection with the Sichuan Province in China ever since her first visit there in 1996. She was even planning on attending law school in Beijing until a last-minute record deal came through and Washburn instead found herself barreling down the path of full-time folk singer.

While Washburn has spent a majority of her time since then in a recording studio, or touring the country, she has also spent time going back to the country she loves, and even performed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

In the spring of 2008 a major earthquake hit Sichuan, killing over 80,000 people, and drawing Washburn back once again to the place she knew so well.

"I've built these amazing friendships, so when I heard about the earthquake, I was immediately moved and nervous about what the impact had been on a lot of my friends," said Washburn.

Washburn headed to Sichuan to volunteer in the way she knew best.

"I hooked up with a local organization called Sichuan Quake Relief and ended up getting to play music, play shows for kids who had been relocated out of the disaster zone, either orphaned or just needed to get an education away from the trauma," recalled Washburn.

In today's Conversation, as "World News" counts down to their own trip to China, ABC's David Muir spoke with Washburn about the experience of making this album.

Washburn told Muir that time and time again, she would hear stories from the children about who and what they had lost in the earthquake and the sadness they still felt on a daily basis.

"They were going through a lot of, I guess you could say, post-traumatic stress disorder. Really charged, heavy emotions because of the earthquake," said Washburn.

Inspired by the children's stories and spirits, Washburn decided she wanted to document their stories, songs and sounds.

So she joined forces with David Liang's Shanghai Restoration Project to create an album combining the voices of displaced Chinese citizens, and the sounds of recovery underway, all over the region. The album, released in 2009, is a mixture of sounds that evoke everything from somber memories to hope for the future. Playground noises, ping pong, basketball, jacks, handclapping games, are melded into a danceable rhythm. A relocated boy sings a ballad about missing his mom, over the sounds of his parents, rebuilding their house several hundred miles away.

Muir also spent time in the Sichuan region after the earthquake, and both he and Washburn talked great adversity. It is just one of the many characteristics of life in China that we will be reporting about, when we head to that country next month.

Watch more "Conversation" videos here.

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