Working with musicians like the Kronos Quartet and Lou Harrison, Wu Man changed the image of the pipa worldwide.

How did you first come across the pipa?

My parents are not musicians, but my father he’s an artist, so there’s something of the arts in the family! But the pipa was quite popular in China, especially in my generation – traditional music was very popular in China during the 70s and 80s. Actually my parents, they chose the pipa for me.

Did you enjoy it once you started playing it?

I think, like any other kid, beginning was awful. I hated it. You have to practise… I wasn’t happy. A year later, by the time I was twelve, I really enjoyed it, I really liked it so my parents didn’t have to yell at me to get me to practise! And I’m still playing!

Wu Man, pipa Pipa player Wu Man. Photo © Wu Man

What role does the pipa play in Chinese traditional music?

The pipa has one of the longest histories among all the traditional Chinese instruments. We have a solo repertoire, so most of the time people play solo pipa, but...