Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE : Strings of the sitar lead young man to life’s path

By Elizabeth Hsu  /  CNA

Sitar player Azer Wu performs yesterday at his Siyu Music Park. Azar’s band Siyu Sitar is the first local group to play sitar music.


His long black hair flows down over his shoulders and his dark beard brushes the instrument he is holding. He looks off into the distance, conjuring up images of ocean waves, as he strums the strings of his sitar.

“When the Pacific Ocean is my audience, I am the greatest musician in the world because there’s no better audience than the sea,” 29-year-old Azer Wu (吳欣澤) says.

Wu, born to Hakka and Aboriginal parents, is Taiwan’s first professional sitar player and founder of a band that features sitar music.

He was one of the first participants in the “Wanderer” program initiated by the founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), to provide funding to young artists and encourage them to follow their dreams.

As a teen, Wu was a guitarist with a string of national music prizes under his belt. Like most young guitar players in Taiwan, he was interested in rock music. When he was in senior high school, he joined a heavy metal band.

But one day he walked out of the practice room with an earache and went to a music store in search of something different.

“I asked the shop assistant to give me something special,” Wu said. “He handed me a dust-­covered CD by someone called Shahid Parvez.”

Wu said he had no idea who Parvez was, but the CD cover showed a man playing a sitar.

“When I played the CD, it sounded to me like the Indian man on the cover was tuning a string instrument,” he said.

Wu stuck the CD on a shelf and didn’t think about it again for years. One night, when he was around 20, unable to sleep, he picked up the CD and played it again.

“All of a sudden, I was hearing this music that sounded like it was flowing from planets in a vast universe. It was peaceful and created such an atmosphere of harmony and tranquility that I was enchanted,” he said.

It was the start of Wu’s love affair with an instrument that is by no means part of the mainstream local music scene.

In Wu’s own words, “it sounds like a cat and looks like a centipede, but it’s super cool.”

Wu bought his first sitar in 2003 as a Christmas gift to himself. He set about teaching himself to play the instrument by listening to the Parvez CD. Within a few months he was able to play well enough to launch a band called Siyu Sitar featuring music he created on the exotic instrument.

However, for Wu, this was just the beginning of what he described as a wanderer’s journey.

In January 2005, he left for India with the intention of learning classical sitar. While wandering along the Ganges River one day in India’s cultural capital Varanasi, he encountered a sitar player known as Papa Mori.

“Papa Mori was 75 years old and he played the sitar slowly and gently, producing music more touching than anything I had ever heard on any CD,” Wu said.

Wu became a student of Papa Mori, learning much more than just classical sitar. But first, Wu had to learn the proper posture for playing the instrument.

“Playing the sitar is closely related to yoga and meditation — if one is not in the right position one cannot produce the perfect sound,” Wu said.

“In the beginning, I could only hold the position for about three minutes before losing all feeling in my legs,” he said.

The proper pose is to sit on the floor with one leg crossed over the other, a position that Wu said was “pure torture” at first.

“Now I can sit that way for hours without shifting,” he added.

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