I first heard the singer and clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn in the excellent all-female bluegrass group Uncle Earl. It's always cool to hear Washburn sing bluegrass in Mandarin, which she learned while studying in China. Washburn returned to China in 2005 with her Sparrow Quartet, which includes Bela Fleck.
In May 2008, an earthquake killed more than 88,000 people in China's Sichuan province and left more than 5 million homeless or relocated. After the quake, Washburn traveled there with electronic musician Dave Liang (AKA the Shanghai Restoration Project) and the pair recorded Afterquake, which was released on the anniversary of the disaster. Washburn and Liang's benefit album for Sichuan Quake Relief combines acoustic and electronic music with the real-life voices of relocated and orphaned children from the area. In "Quake," the kids eerily recreate the sound of the earthquake as they experienced it. And an eighth grade art class sings "Little Birdie," a traditional folk song Washburn translated into Mandarin, which is combined here with kindergarten classroom noises. (The website includes videos of kids making their own fun in relocated schools.) It's all about as poignant and beautiful as you might imagine.