It was shortly after 9pm when I exited the underground train station and walked out onto a small public square situated just a few minutes away from my home. The ground was damp, signalling an earlier rainfall which must have occured during the hour I was riding the rails deep under the city.
As often happens, a small crowd lined the edges of the almost circular area, their weak clapping punctuating their slightly louder murmurs of approval.
I edged my way to the front, curious to see which street performer had captured the attention of the notoriously fickle onlookers. Since moving to this area I’d witnessed the regular Friday afternoon physically disabled troupe who, to be honest, didnt sound too great, but made up for it in vigour and raw energy. I’d also seen and heard solo musicians playing sweetly on the Chinese erhu, a variation on a western violin/cello (forgive me, I know the Chinese instrument probably came first) and a random number of guitarists/singers.
But tonight, was something definitely different.
It took me longer to get to the front of the audience, which impressed upon me that there were many more people that I first thought. As I neared the front I realised that the voice penetrating the air, soaring above the recorded backing track was strong, vibrant, masculine, raw and sexy, It had an edge that seemed to be coated in gravel. It was energising. In short, it was brilliant.
As I reached the inner circle the singer ended his song and again the audience clapped desultorily which was no reflection on the artist. In China enthusiastic applause is rare coming from people aged over 20, or maybe, 25.
I beamed just because my soul had resonated with the music. The singer’s gaze travelled the throng, eventually fixing on me, initially at waist height which was actualy eye level for him as he was in a wheel chair. His powerful chest had propelled his voice across the square while his legs, smaller than usual, dangled from his seat, his feet a few inches above the ground.
I nodded, still smiling and he nodded back with a smile of his own, as the music changed from the Cantonese anthem he’d belted out to a ballad of strings and soft rythym.
A young girl of about 19 wearing ballerina-type shoes and a peach coloured whispy ballerina-type dress wafted onto the stage area and twirled, slowly, exquisitely. Her hands and feet gracefully leading the way for her lithe, strong body to follow.
No-one spoke. I guess we didn’t want to break the spell she was weaving
She moved in effortless manner to the beautiful instrumental and after the first minute of her dance it was as if she’d forgotten all about us. She was in the zone where all was well in her world.
I enjoyed more, taking a few minutes to speak to the talented couple before I left. I learned that the gorgerous girl and brilliant singer were father and daughter and that they made their living from performing in public spaces in this part of the city.
But getting to the venues was often a challenge. The singer said it could be difficult to get cheap transport to carry two people, a wheelchair and their speakers. However when performances where thin on the ground they simply had less food to eat.
His disability prevented him from working so all he had was his voice and his daughter was happy to share her love of dancing with anyone who wanted to watch. He told me that neither of them had had any formal training. He sang every day while his daughter had learned to dance from watching ballet programmes on TV.
Shortly after this we had a month of perpetual rain and my apartment was flooded so badly I had to move out, ending up residing pretty far away. Consequently I never saw them again, but I often wondered if they were able to eat and to share their remarkable talents whilst the rain had caused such havoc and, of course, in the time since.
I really hope so.