Music

Here is the soundtrack to your 2024 Lunar New Year celebrations

6 Asian Canadian artists share their suggestions for the holiday, from a newly arranged traditional Chinese folk song to a modern instrumental pop number.

6 Asian Canadian artists, including Luna Li and Cheng² Duo, share their suggestions for the holiday

Three artists are cut out on top of a gold background. The artist on the left is a Chinese Malaysian Canadian with short black hear and bangs, holding her saxophone; the Chinese Canadian brother-sister duo on the right are each with their instruments: a cello for the man in the middle and a piano for the woman on the right.
Jazz saxophonist Allison Au and chamber ensemble Cheng2Duo offer suggestions to soundtrack your Lunar New Year celebrations. (Agnes Wywrot, Cheng2Duo/Facebook; design by CBC Music)

Lunar New Year marks the beginning of a new year based on the lunar calendar, and is celebrated by millions of people worldwide. 2024 ushers in the Year of the Dragon: a Chinese zodiac sign that represents "authority, prosperity and good fortune," according to the Times of India.

Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, marks a weeklong public holiday in the country, while Lunar New Year is celebrated in many East Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, and their diasporas. Feasts, family gatherings, fireworks and much more mark the celebrations — and what better way to soundtrack that festive time than with recommendations that are thoughtfully handpicked?

Below is a Lunar New Year soundtrack as curated by Asian Canadian artists across the country, from Calgary-based Foonyap to Ottawa-raised  Cheng² Duo and St. John's-based Jing Xia. 

Are you celebrating Lunar New Year this year? Let us know what soundtrack you'll be listening to in the comments.


Artist: Foonyap
Chosen track: "Takeout" by Ginger Beef, off the Calgary-based duo's self-titled 2023 album

Foonyap is a classically trained violinist, and describes her work as navigating "her sheltered Chinese-Catholic heritage and the intense music training of her childhood. She marries brittle traditional melodies with classical deconstructionism and a minimalist electronic aesthetic." Last year, she was the festival coordinator for FascinAsian Film Festival.

"This track off of Ginger Beef's self-titled debut of tongue-in-cheek instrumental pop evokes the relaxed abundance and playful flight of the Year of the Green Wood Dragon. It's been a difficult couple years for me, and I've been thinking about how lucky I am to gather with my musical community this Lunar New Year. I know my friends Jiajia Li and Warren Tse (the husband-and-wife team behind the project) have been working hard and I'm thrilled to see their efforts soar!"


Artist: Cheng² Duo
Chosen track: Racing Horses off the duo's 2023 album, Portrait

Cellist Bryan Cheng and pianist Silvie Cheng play individually as well as in their sibling group Cheng² Duo, which just picked up its first Juno nomination for classical album of the year (small ensemble) for their 2023 release, Portrait. 

"As classical musicians of Chinese descent who grew up in Canada, not only did we have the chance to be exposed to Western classical music at a young age, but we were also introduced to traditional Chinese music early on in our household, in particular music performed on folk instruments such as the guzheng and erhu. The erhu, being most akin to the cello, has a sound that we were especially drawn to, with its soulful, somehow naturally melancholic sonority, epitomized in the beloved piece Er Quan Ying Yue (Moon's Reflection upon a Spring). 

"Over the years, its ubiquitous tunefulness appeared in every pilgrimage that we made to visit our extended family, from street corners to temples to shopping malls, and we simply came to associate this sound with China, with our motherland. The track we have chosen to celebrate Lunar New Year with, however, Racing Horses, portrays the instrument in a rare, vivacious light, depicting an annual horse racing event at the midsummer Naadam festival in Inner Mongolia, during which up to 1,000 horses gallop across the grasslands, competing at breakneck speeds. 

"Whenever we have been invited to perform at a Lunar New Year celebration, one or both of these classic folk songs is always requested; given that we are not trained in playing traditional Chinese instruments, and in order to spread this delightful music to a wider international audience, we created our own arrangements of them for cello and piano, which are also both featured on our most recent album, Portrait, highlighting the diversity of Asian music against a classical backdrop. We hope the vigorous spirit of Racing Horses and the erhu's singular timbre imbue listeners with a sense of renewed energy and optimism going into the New Year!"


Artist: Luna Li
Chosen track: Piano Sonata No. 8, "Pathétique," second movement by Ludwig van Beethoven

Toronto multi-instrumentalist Hannah Bussiere Kim performs under the name Luna Li, a project that fuses her classical background with dreamy, psychedelic rock. In November 2023, Kim won the SOCAN Songwriting Prize for her song "Silver Into Rain," off her 2022 debut album, Duality. 

"I tend to turn to classical music during periods of transition and new chapters; it was a big part of my family life growing up, and has become a source of comfort for me now. Every year my family does a bowing ceremony for Lunar New Year led by my mom's partner, Lusiana, who also happened to be my first piano teacher when I was five years old. This piece reminds me of her and of new beginnings."


Artist: Allison Au
Chosen track: "Racing Across the Land" off her 2023 album, Migrations

Allison Au is a Juno-winning jazz saxophonist who just scored her fourth Juno nomination, this year with the Migrations Ensemble for jazz album of the year (group). 

"Lunar New Year is always about spending time with family. But to me, as much as it's about celebrating a new year and new beginnings, it's also about remembering family members who've passed and who are no longer with us. 

"I recently released an album entitled Migrations. The album explores my family history of immigration to Canada: from Southern China and Malaysia on my father's side and war-torn Poland and Israel on my mother's. It also explores my personal experience growing up biracial in Toronto, reconciling displacement, cultural identity, family legacy and the notion of home. The album is dedicated to my grandparents, who fled war and disparity for the promise of new opportunity. 

"And so, I would share one song from my album, called 'Racing Across the Land,' as part of a Lunar New Year soundtrack, because it's a song about legacy. It's about remembering loved ones we've lost, but also about how we can carry those memories with us to face the future with gratitude, grace and hope."


Artist: Jing Xia 
Chosen track: "Xi Yang Yang (Full of Joy)," Liu Mingyuan

Jing Xia is a guzheng player and ethnomusicologist born and raised in Hunan, China, and currently based in St. John's. Since moving to Canada in 2015 she has formed the Light Wind Ensemble and Xia-3, a "fusion intercultural band," as she describes on her website. Xia-3 won instrumental artist and rising star of the year at the 2023 MusicNL Awards.

"'Xi Yang Yang' has long been a staple in festive events during the Spring Festival in China. Its lively melody and jubilant rhythm make it the perfect choice to celebrate the Lunar New Year while immersing in the rich tapestry of Chinese traditional instrumental cultures. 

"The piece holds a special place in my heart. I vividly remember playing it on the first day I joined a Chinese orchestra in China, and the last time was during my fieldwork in the U.S. When people relocate, they bring music with them as a way to be connected to their cultural roots. 'Xi Yang Yang' is such music that travels with Chinese people and brings a sense of warmth to the Chinese communities in the diaspora. Each time I hear it, I'm transported back to the joyous time I spent with my family and friends during holidays. 

"It's also a source of relaxation, as it signals the arrival of holidays! Chinese kids listening to 'Xi Yang Yang' can almost feel the anticipation of receiving red envelopes for the Lunar New Year."


Artist: Korea Town Acid 
Chosen track: "Everyday" off her upcoming album, In Motion

Korea Town Acid, a.k.a. Jessica Cho, is technically an electronic artist and producer but creates music that doesn't easily fit into a particular genre box. The Seoul-born, Toronto-based artist was nominated for her first Juno Award in 2022 for underground dance single of the year for her track "Sobriety." 

"I'm starting off my new year with my own release ['Everyday']. I use a sample by Roy Ayers ['Searching'], it has that soulful element, but also that modern contemporary dance music. So it has a dance-floor energy.... As a musician, I'm always trying to find my own sounds. And I want to have a fusion of old-school elements, but also contemporary sound as well.... It's kind of a journey through the nostalgic melody and the beat, and I like when they intertwine: trying to create the harmonies that blend the traditions with the modern. 

"The inspiration was to try to resemble the everyday hustle.... I have to wear so many hats as an artist: sometimes I have to be the social media manager, and sound engineer and a creative director, and a DJ and a live PA artist and graphic artist … every day, it's like a domino effect of actions that you have to do to make your everyday worth it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Holly Gordon

Producer, CBC Music

Holly Gordon is a Halifax-based journalist and digital producer for CBC Music. She can be found on Twitter @hollygowritely or email holly.gordon@cbc.ca

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