Twelve Girls Band

The members of China’s Twelve Girls Band don’t need to speak the native tongue to communicate with an audience. With this group, music truly is the universal language.

The conservatory-trained young women perform anything from Chinese folk music to Celtic to classical to a rendition of Coldplay’s “Clocks” on traditional Chinese instruments including the zither-like gu zheng, dulcimer-like yang qin, pipa lute and a two-stringed violin called an erhu.

Twelve Girls has already charmed concert-goers in its homeland, Japan and Southeast Asia over the last few years. American audiences were introduced to the band’s unique style during its first North American tour last summer.

Domo International Artists Agency’s Dino Malito who, with Eiichi Naito, co-manages the group stateside, said he was intrigued with the Twelve Girls Band when he first heard about it.

Once he saw the group perform, he was sold.

“I saw them at UCLA [when] they did a show there. I was just blown away by how great they were,” Malito told Pollstar. “I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the show, and they’re all up there smiling and playing their instruments with such ease.”

The group was assembled by producer Xiao Jing Wang as a way to bring Chinese folk music to a larger audience and into the mainstream music market. Wang held auditions and hand-picked the musicians in 2001 from a pool of artists trained at the country’s prestigious music colleges.

Adding to the group’s mystique is the angle that in Chinese numerology, the number 12 corresponds with the months of the year or, in ancient mythology, 12 golden hairpins that represent womanhood.

Group member Jing Jing Ma recalled the Twelve Girls Band debut at Beijing’s 21st Century Theatre after two months of rehearsal.

“To tell you the truth, it was very tough the first time. We didn’t even have a stage director, no wardrobe, lighting not right, etcetera. Everything was a new experience for all members and all staff,” Ma told Pollstar through a translator. “Nobody has ever experienced this particular form of concert in the past – 12 girls on the stage, playing modern Chinese music, international covers, western classical and even jazz on the most traditional Chinese instruments. But that first concert basically changed all of our destinies. We are always touring and it is part of our life now.”

Twelve Girls Band

The band has hardly been off the road since, between tours of Japan and China, and visits to Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore before going international. Twelve Girls’ 2004 debut album, Eastern Energy, has sold more than 2 million units in Japan, making the Twelve Girls Band a household name there. Its latest release, Romantic Energy, dropped this summer and there’s a Christmas album in the works as well.

Malito said the band’s current North American tour, which has stops in the U.S. and Canada, is the most expansive trek so far thanks to the growing buzz on the all- woman ensemble.

“We’ve got something like 20 dates already set up starting October 6th through November 4th,” he said. “People have been coming back to us, saying they’re interested in having the girls [perform]. It just sounds like an interesting thing to them.”

He added that the group is “excited to see so much of North America and it’s good that people are willing to share their experience.”

Ma said she and her band mates were not expecting the kind of response they got from American audiences during their first visit.

“I always thought that since America is a big country in terms of size, it must take a longer time for the audience to accept us and our new form of music. But, in fact I heard comments from people, friends or audience from America after our last visit,” she explained. “Many people in the States do notice our band now, and they expressed to me that they would like to see us again in the States soon.

“Last year, we had some new American fans during our tour. They stood up and bowed after each song was played.”

As far as what’s next for Twelve Girls Band, Malito said it’s a day-to-day situation.

“There’s a whole lot of ideas on the table on how to bring them back and bring more people to see them, but it’s still in the works,” he said. “We’re just dealing with one thing at a time.”