Afterquake was released on May 12, 2009, exactly one year after the Wenchuan earthquake and immediately climbed the charts, reaching the No. 3 position on iTunes and the No. 1 position on Amazon for electronic-music album sales.
While the album's strategically timed release no doubt contributed to its instant success, the true backbone of the project was its concept and the music itself. The seven-track EP is a very nice example of what two professional musicians working together to combine very different styles can achieve.
For the album, American banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn and Chinese-American producer Dave Liang, aka the Shanghai Restoration Project, headed out to quake-jolted countryside areas of Sichuan to mix sounds, voices, and traditional songs with electronic beats.
Washburn, who holds a degree in East Asian studies and had formerly taught at the Sichuan Music Conservatory, was an old friend of Peter Goff, who initiated Sichuan Quake Relief immediately after the earthquake struck. When he asked Washburn to lead music-based activities for children in the quake-stricken areas as part of SQR's relief efforts, she agreed. This day and a half of interactions with children in six schools eager to share their stories and experiences were the initial inspiration for the project; she had met Liang briefly by chance in New York and had previously collaborated with him on two tracks. In March 2009, the two musicians set out for two weeks of recording; editing and production was completed within two months.
Track by Track
"Quake" The album's opening track attempts to recreate the sound of the quake. Washburn and Liang ask the children what the earthquake sounded like, to which they respond with noisy exhales. The track then layers on a break beat to build up to "Tibetan Wish", the album's fastest track and a beautiful arrangement of chorus and an a cappella version of a Tibetan children's bedtime song. Bridged by a heavy bass line, this is a great track waiting for other producers to remix it. The album's third track, "Sala", is also sung in Tibetan and underlined with a break beat as well as a string-orchestral sound. In "Dream Seek a girl delivers a spoken-word recollection of a dream, which Liang pairs with a hip-hop beat. "Chinese Recess" starts with a sample of a man selling pineapple which merges into a funny counting rhyme-rap. The longest track, "Song for Mama", takes its time building up a beat with sounds produced by bricks, a cement mixer, and a wheel barrow. Vocals are delivered by a young man who has been relocated away from his mother to a camp in E'mei Shan. The mama for whom the song was sung reportedly broke down in tears the first time she heard the track. The album closes with the uplifting "Little Birdie". Recorded at the Wenchuan Kindergarten and Wenchuan Shuimo Middle School, it's a very playful, 8-bit-style track.
Snippets from the album can be heard here.
If there is a anything to criticize about the album, it's the length, or lack thereof—at only 18 minutes, there's not a whole lot of music to listen to. This is understandable given the project's tight deadline, and given its warm reception worldwide, there are already rumors of subsequent releases and a tour in the fall.
The CD comes in a soft sleeve and is available at the Bookworm. While the Bookworm price (RMB100) is considerably higher than the online price ($6.93 on Amazon), a higher percentage of money from the sales will go directly to quake-relief efforts than from commercial online sales.
Three types of limited-edition album packages are available exclusively at the Afterquake Store. These include autographed CDs, one-of-a-kind handwritten letters from the relocated school children, and limited-edition prints from documentary photographer Amanda Kowalski