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Chinese band "Dublingers" puts the Irish in Beijing

 The band
The band 'Dublingers' performs at a pub in Beijing in this February 3, 2009 handout photo. REUTERS/Handout
— image credit: Reuters

By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters) - The crowd is happy, the music is swirling, and two men jump up, Guinnesses in hand, for a quick jig. It could be any Irish pub on St. Patrick's Day, except that the musicians are Chinese and the pub is in Beijing.

"Dublingers" is a unique band, bringing together four Chinese who taught themselves Irish music and a French jazz player living in Beijing. Their name shows they have one foot in the Chinese capital and the other on the Emerald Isle.

The stories that led the band to perform Irish music are as unusual as their line-up.

"Years ago, I saw the movie Titanic, and I was really taken by the scene when they were all dancing below deck," said Cheng Yafei, a burly coal mining machine salesman by day and blues guitarist by night.

"I thought, Hey! this music sounds great. Where does it come from?"

Cheng, who had migrated to the blues after discovering the guitar and the Beatles in college, then taught himself to play Irish music.

He was invited to join the infant Dublingers by percussionist Li Hong, who learned Irish music while playing in a rock-and-roll band at an Irish pub in Beijing. He picked up the bodhran, or Irish drum, at a music fair in Shanghai.

Violinist Zhang Yang rounds out the band, which plays about three times a month in Beijing and had a busy round of gigs this week.

"I think that audiences are surprised to see the Chinese playing. I'm just a foreigner, Irish or French or Russian or whatever, no one can really tell what I am," said Nico Torrese, the French jazz musician who joined the group last year.

"Because the music is simple and spontaneous, it works... It's energy and emotion together."

Accordionist Wang Yi, or Zoe, took up the instrument when she was four, in her hometown in Henan Province. By age 10, she "couldn't put it down."

"In the Cultural Revolution, it was very popular and a lot of people my parents' age can play. With an accordion, one person could play and lead group sing-alongs," said Wang, who sneaks a smoke between sets.

"But because all the accordion music is from that era, young people generally dislike it. I want to play more French music and Irish music so that people can grow to like the accordion again."

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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