Na-Mara’s 2019 trip to Chongqing, China – Tuesday 29th October 2019 and the return home, Wednesday 30th October 2019

On our last full day in Chongqing we rose a little later and breakfasted with fellow festival performers, Netherlands gypsy blues band, Stompin’ Grounds. They were nice, bright, young men and it was a real pity that we hadn’t been able to catch any of their performances.

Our plan for the day was to perform a kind of ‘round the room’ café concert organised by Jason  in one of the campus bars at lunchtime and then move on to another college on the campus to do something similar with some music students in a session organised by Prof. Gwen Turner and her colleague Prof. Lee.

Before doing so, there was time for the three of us to take a little stroll outside in the sunshine that now established itself, before making our way up to the university.  We arrived early at the student café and had a coffee before setting up with the small p.a. available to us.  The café concert had a lovely feel to it.  We played a few songs and then audience members came up to the stage to perform or to sing along to soundtracks they plugged into the p.a.  There were some great performers amongst the audience, including the striking young man who had lent me his beautiful Tanglewood guitar, and Jason himself played a very nice song.

After a brief filmed interview with Jason on our collective experiences of visiting Chongqing, we then picked up our guitars and crossed the campus for our last music session of the visit.  In a room with excellent acoustics, Rob and I interspersed playing songs and tunes with musical contributions from Prof Lee’s students.  We heard some top quality electric guitar solos, some harmonica, some excellent songs from young singer-songwriters and, something of a highlight for Rob and I as we were sitting in the front row, we were able to watch a young woman play the ‘pipa’, a glorious pear shaped, four stringed traditional Chinese instrument that is plucked and frailed whilst the player presents graceful hand movements.  Utterly mesmeric.  A true highlight of the trip.

As with pretty much every performance we had done during our stay in Hechuan, we ended this final performance with a collective singing of Chinese pop-folk classic, Banma Banma and we were delighted to be joined, directed even, by the young woman playing the pipa.

After the performance, we held a Question and Answer session with class members, answering questions about our approach to song writing, making suggestions on how to tackle some of their songwriting issues, and discussing the relationships between folk and rock music in both China and the UK.

Before leaving, we all went outside the classroom into what was a quiet, beautiful, courtyard to take group photos with the students alongside a 500-year old tree.  The music students seemed very keen to try out their English on some native speakers and they were very impressive in this regard – certainly better than I was at interpreting and writing down students’ names when signing autographs.

And that was it.  Our last performance in Chongqing was over. 

Now very hungry, we returned with Jason to deposit my two borrowed guitars in his office before setting off to find a late afternoon snack.  We didn’t want too much to eat because it wouldn’t be too long before we met up with the gang for a final evening meal.  Jason found us a little restaurant and we ate very well. 

Then, it was back to the hotel to begin packing and to rest briefly before going out for evening meal.  Clive had planned something special for us and, with a nearly full complement of 12, we set off from the hotel into a warm night.  We passed the older mall where Dave had done his previous day’s souvenir shopping.  The mall was now closed but a night market had sprung up and in the car park, there were troupes of elderly folk dancing.  We walked on further until we reached a newer, bigger, mall further down the road.  If the mall itself was quiet now, its restaurants most certainly were not and, in a restaurant upstairs in the mall, we were taken to the biggest cooked buffet I have ever seen.  The range of delicacies to try was vast.  Entry was at a fixed price per head and you could eat and drink as much as you like.  Such was the variety and with descriptions in Chinese script, we were very grateful for the help given by Gwen, Clive, Dominic and our student guides in describing what many of the dishes were.

At an appropriate point in the proceedings, Dave handed out the presents we had brought from the UK to Lucy, Lennon, Lizzie, Bonnie, Samantha and Jason, and Clive took away gifts for Sue, Wang Yi Xue and others. They were small tokens of our appreciation and were most graciously received.

However, all good things must come to an end and, eventually, it was time for us all to make our way back home – us to the hotel, the academics to their apartments and the students to their dormitories.  We parted ways at a crossroads close to the hotel and there were many heartfelt hugs and a few tears as we waved goodbye.  For us, it was back to the hotel, finish the packing and get ready to be picked up very early the next morning for our transfer to the airport.  A late morning and an early start had already reduced the amount of time for sleeping but even this was further interrupted by a dramatic thunderstorm that broke that night. 

Still, the alarm clock rang faithfully the next morning at 5:30am and, as we made our way down to the empty hotel lobby, the university transit was already there waiting for us.  And, so it was, with dawn breaking on a misty China morning, we made our return to Chongqing airport.

The return flight to Beijing was mercifully free of turbulence and we were again afforded a great view over the astonishing cityscape of China’s capital city.  The transfer through Beijing airport seemed more leisurely this time around and the flight home to London and the subsequent taxi ride around the M25 and back to our front doors were both timely and comfortable.

It feels a bit like a dream now but it is true.  Na-Mara have now played in China and, along with their music, were warmly received there and welcomed wherever we went.  Unsurprisingly, there is a monumental list of thank yous to be made and that list begins with the very loudest thanks to Clive Lebozer for promoting Na-Mara to the festival organisers, securing our involvement in the festival and looking after us so wonderfully well whilst in Hechuan.

Thanks also go to Robert and Jason for arranging so much of our successful visit to Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications (CQUPT) and again to Jason for also lending me his lovely guitar and for securing me the services of another. 

Many thanks to Wang Yi Xue for joining us and singing Banma Banma so beautifully on the Bingo City Theatre stage.

Further thanks must go to CQUPT staff Gwen, Dominic and Jocelyn for making us feel so at home and welcome in Hechuan and, finally, we would all like to give an enormous round of thanks to our wonderful young friends Bonnie, Lucy, Sue, Lizzie, Lennon and Samantha for their friendship and for giving up so much of their free time to accompany us and educate us about so many things on our first visit to Chongqing.  We would love to make a return to Chongqing in the future and, hopefully, pick up on our new formed friendships once more.