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Manhu from China: 5 musicians traveled across the globe to share their culture with Red Wing

Manhu Band from The Stone Forrest in southeast China performed at the Sheldon on Oct. 18, 2018. Lao Gao plays the moon lute, Wang Tao sings, Jin Hongmei sings, and Er Sheng plays the bass. Not seen is Awa playing drums. Rachel Fergus / RiverTown Multimedia

There is about 12,000 miles between the Stone Forest in the Yunnan province of China and Red Wing. Manhu Band traveled that distance to share a piece of their culture with residents of this community. As part of Arts Midwest World Fest, the band had a residency program around the city during the week of Oct. 22, which ended with a performance at the Sheldon on Sunday, Oct. 28.

Manhu Band, formed in 2003, plays the music of the Sani and Yi people. The Yi is an ethnic group in southwest China, recognized by the Chinese government, and Sani is one of over 40 smaller groups within the Yi. The Sani have their own traditions, religion and language.

Manhu sang songs in the Sani tradition and language as well as the Yi tradition. Sani songs were played on a variety of traditional instruments such as the big and little three strings (one looks like a large guitar, the other looks like a small guitar), a moon lute, a Sani flute and, a favorite of the younger audience members, a leaf. During the concert on Sunday, band members also wore Sani attire. This included embroidery, bright colors and silver jewelry.

Manhu Band went around Red Wing for a week introducing students, residents of the nursing home and inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility to the Sani culture and its music. In the schools, students were taught a popular Sani dance that consists of three steps followed by two hops.

During the concert on Sunday, band members asked everyone in the audience to stand up and dance. They said through their interpreter, "We have been entertaining you for the evening, now you will entertain us."

As Manhu played, the audience filtered into the aisles to perform the dance they learned, or learn by following Jin Hongmei, the lead female vocalist, as she danced across the stage.

At the end of the evening, Manhu Band decided to perform an encore for the crowd. The encore was a song of blessing sung a cappella.

Before Manhu left the stage to sign CDs and other items brought from the Stone Forest, they encouraged everyone in the audience to visit the Yunnan province and learn more about the Sani people.

The final Arts Midwest event that will be at the Sheldon this season is scheduled for March 30, 2019. The Unni Boksasp Ensemble from Norway will play folk music of Scandinavia.

For more information about Manhu Band, the Unni Boksasp Ensemble, and other events, visit the Sheldon Theatre's website: