The vocalist/dancer Luo Danna was trained in China as a singer/dancer and actress and was part of a cadre that performed throughout Guanxi and Guandong provinces in China. She is fluent in the chinese folk song styles and dance. Upon moving to San Francisco she helped to found DaMaDa.
Marc Schmitz is a guitarist and composer who has performed with many groups ranging from funk to rock/pop to fusion to straight ahead jazz and his favorite, free jazz. He has also performed with a Phillipine contemporary dance ensemble. He studied jazz improvisation at the Wisconsin Consevatory of Music and the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York. He has traveled and lived in China 5 times the past decade and has been influenced by chinese music.
Dave Mihaly is a drummer, multi-instrumentalist and composer. He has toured the world playing music and has studied music and percussion with a variety of teachers in New York City, New Jersey and California. Mihaly has played in many jazz, rock, punk, folkloric and experimental bandsand is featured on over 30 recordings. He is currently a Porto Franco Records artist. He studied chinese music with Betty and Shirley Wong in San Francisco.
Luo Danna - Vocals, chinese percussion
Marc Schmitz - Guitar!, Guitar / Back Vocals
Dave Mihaly - Drums, Percussion, back vocals
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DaMaDa CD Review: "3 Kingdoms"
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Stylistically, Chinese music really runs the gamut. Traditional Chinese music can be deep thinking ...Stylistically, Chinese music really runs the gamut. Traditional Chinese music can be deep thinking and highly spiritual, whereas some contemporary Chinese pop can be totally bubble gum (try to envision Radio Disney-type artists and teen popsters singing in Chinese). DaMaDa gets a great deal of inspiration from traditional Chinese music on 3 Kingdoms, which is not to say that this excellent CD is traditional Chinese music in the strict sense. Rather, the experimental San Francisco-based trio (which consists of Luo Danna on vocals, Marc Schmitz on guitar, and Dave Mihaly on drums) combines Chinese music with elements of avant-garde rock, jazz and funk. And Chinese music isn’t the only type of world music that influences 3 Kingdoms; elements of Indian, Pakistani and African music are occasionally incorporated as well.
DaMaDa sets an adventurous tone for the disc with the opener “Good Morning, Miao Mountain.” It’s typical of their work in that it is eccentric, quirky and off-center, but also relatively accessible and easy to absorb. Some avant-garde music (be it avant-garde jazz, avant-garde rock or avant-garde classical) makes a point of being as extreme and as inaccessible as possible, but “Good Morning, Miao Mountain” underscores the fact that DaMaDa, for all their eccentricity, are actually quite musical. It is genuinely melodic, as are “A Red Heart” (which is part of a Chinese opera that was unveiled back in 1970), “Yi Wu Suo You” (“I Have Nothing”) and “Good News from Beijing.”
“Tai Yang Chu Lai Xi Yangyang” (“Crescent Moon”), “Mo Li Hua” (“Jasmine Flower”), “Qing Shen Yi Chang” and “Tai Yang Gu” (“Sun Drum”) are traditional Chinese songs, but what DaMaDa do to them is not traditional. When they get through with them, the songs acquire an avant-rock/avant-jazz funkiness. Danna, who is a highly expressive singer, doesn’t hesitate to improvise. Her vocals have a very stream-of-consciousness quality, and she clearly believes that traditional Chinese songs are open to interpretation. Further, DaMaDa incorporates some English lyrics here and there, although most of the lyrics on this album are in Chinese.
Most of 3 Kingdoms is full of energetic funkiness, with the exception being the hauntingly pretty “Wan Wan De Yue Liang,” which has an airy, floating quality. DaMaDa are at their most reflective and contemplative on this dreamy track. “Crest” will come as a real surprise to those who are into Islamic music. The piece is by the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who specialized in Qawwali songs (the traditional music of Islam’s mystical Sufi sect). But DaMaDa don’t perform “Crest” is a typically Pakistani way. Instead, they give the song an imaginative and unlikely Chinese/avant-rock/avant-jazz/funk makeover, and they do it in a way that sounds perfectly natural rather than forced.
3 Kingdoms is not recommended to those who consider themselves purists when it comes to traditional Chinese music, as DaMaDa are not purists in any way, shape or form. Instead, what makes them so exciting is their ability to combine Chinese music with a variety of non-Chinese elements and come up with something that is as fresh and unorthodox as it is musical. DaMaDa can be self-indulgent, but because their creativity is at such a high level that one can easily live with their self-indulgence or even enjoy and appreciate it. They have a lot to offer if one is open to the possibility of hearing a decidedly non-purist approach to Chinese music. Surely, 3 Kingdoms is a risk-taking jewel of an album.
Review by Alex Henderson
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
DaMaDa CD Review: "3 Kingdoms"
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The San Francisco-based trio of DaMaDa combines Chinese folk song styles from Zhuangzu, Yi Zu, Miaoz...The San Francisco-based trio of DaMaDa combines Chinese folk song styles from Zhuangzu, Yi Zu, Miaozu, Xinjiang, and other Chinese provinces with American improvisational jazz forms. DaMaDa is Dave Mihaly on drums, Marc Schmitz on guitar, and Luo Danna on vocals. Truly an East-meets-West musical project, 3 Kingdoms is a magic ride of experimental fusion, jazz idioms, and Oriental charisma. The combination of Chinese, and a few English vocals, provides an oral link to the Orient, too.
“Good Morning Miao Mountain” opens with a clang of a gong, some drums, cymbals, and a guitar solo indicative of a Chinese lute. Shortly thereafter, Luo’s striking voice leads the drums, woodblock, and guitar into a maze of Oriental beauty and free-form pop/rock without the characteristic wailing guitars. The in your face “Good News From Beijing” is a folk and pop-riddled masterpiece with a chorus that is repeated several times. The song is not especially ear-catchy, but the guitar takes over for a majority of the time, making it more familiar to Western ears. Luo’s crystalline vocals are more folk-oriented than rock-centered.
“Tai Yang Chu Lai Xi Yangyang” opens with Luo stating the song title before the percussion and guitar-work shine with unparalleled excellence, possibly rivaling that of the late-Shawn Lane. Schmitz incorporates a variety of musical styles in the song, including folk, fusion, blues, and classical. Luo’s vocal range is rather high and, at times, seems too high pitched without a knowledgeable command of Chinese folk song history and culture. In contrast, the sweet melody of “Wan Wan De Yue Liang” is a stunning mix of soaring yet slightly restrained vocals while glittering guitar sounds and light percussion signal the makings of a good ballad. Thankfully, DaMaDa delivers with stunning results. For instance, the slower guitar picking provides an almost acoustic sound amid a background of Luo’s voice and the clang of a cymbal or two. “Sun Drum” begins with Luo’s achingly beautiful vocals and guitar feedback for a minute or so until the drums and backup vocals by Schmitz and Mihaly commence. The song’s bubbly and somewhat military melody is uncharacteristic of the first half of the song. In fact, the first half almost serves as a distinct and separate song, rather than an intro. Nevertheless, the musical elements come together in the right proportions to produce a satisfying song.
“Yi Wu Suo You” opens with Luo’s distinctive voice backed with a drum and guitar rhythm seemingly right out of the B-52’s repertoire. The closing vocal section with multiple voices is reminiscent of the throat singing of Central Asian nomads. “Mo Li Hua” is a serene folk tune with Luo’s vocals at the beginning of the song and Dave or Marc’s English-lyric vocals in the middle. Luo’s voice cascades with subtle nuances with bird-like resonations throughout. “La Liu La” is the final and longest song over twelve-and-a-half-minutes in length. Luo’s vocal range is tested with subtle guitar strumming and percussion throughout. It is impressive how Schmitz’s guitar-playing abilities mimic Chinese folk tunes and rhythms. However, there is still plenty of room for improvisation. Luo’s vocal outbursts, or instances of lyrical displays, come across more theatrical than irritating. This is not a complaint, as the Chinese folk tune structures do not play well from a Western-melodic point-of-view.
Twelve songs in all showcase the improvisational and cross-cultural musicianship of an impressive trio with equal amounts of lyrical performances, instrumental interludes, and cultural pollination. Over one hour of music is included with English and Chinese song titles and summaries. The concept behind a Chinese and American improvisational-focused release is intriguing and noteworthy. At times, Luo’s vocals seem out of place with the music, but that could be due to the historical, Chinese structures. The reference to jazz in its pure form was rather limited and not the focus of the recording. Fans of Chinese folk tunes with an American twist would probably enjoy 3 Kingdoms the most.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Good Morning Miao Mountain
Good News from Beijing
Tai Yang Chu Lai Xi Yang Yang
Xia He Tang Shui
Qing Shen Yi Chang
La Lui La
Yi Wu Suo You
A Red Heart
Yi Meng Shan Xiao Diao
Huanhe Chuanfu Qu
Xiao Bao Mei
Zuo Xi Kou
Moli Hua (Jasmine Flower)
Wan Wande Yue Liang (Crescent Moon)
Within You, Without You