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Dessa visits Ai Wu residence

On Wednesday, May 23rd, the Dessa in China tour visited the former residence of Ai Wu, a Chinese writer who lived from 1904 to 1992. Situated in a small village about an hour outside of Chengdu, the residence now serves as a cultural center that hosts visiting artists.

Dessa mingles with a crowd at the home of Ai Wu, a Chinese writer who lived from 1904 to 1992. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

It was there, in the courtyard of Ai Wu’s home, surrounded by representatives from the local and district government, students from the village’s primary school, and other writers, artists, and interested people, that Dessa, Aby Wolf, and Matthew Santos performed songs and shared their stories. They told stories of growing up in the Midwest, of discovering their love of music and art, and of the circuitous paths they took to get to where they are today.

Ai Wu’s residence was a fitting location for this discussion. Born Tang Gaodeng, he abandoned his studies at the university in Chengdu to travel across southeastern Asia, writing and performing odd jobs before returning to China in 1931. He changed his name to Ai Wu to reflect the importance of loving yourself: in Mandarin, “ai” means “love” and “wo”—which is pronounced “wu” in some dialects—means “I.”

Dessa poses for press photographs at the former residence of Chinese writer Ai Wu. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

Throughout Dessa’s tour, after every event, she has been swarmed by people who recognize her passion for music, for words, and for her work. Wednesday’s event was no exception. One of the artists in the crowd approached her when it had concluded and shared how moved he was by her story. It was obvious that Dessa was chasing her dream, he said, and that was so good for the students in attendance to see.

It takes great strength to chase your dreams. It takes great conviction, commitment, and, perhaps above all, a deep love for yourself and the work you are doing. During her performance at Ai Wu’s residence, Dessa exemplified the belief he had championed and enshrined in his own name. And the students witnessing her performance understood that.

Students clap along to Dessa’s final number. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

When she had finished her story and the group had performed their final song, Dessa looked to the audience. “Are there any questions?” she asked. In response, one of the students, sitting in the back of the courtyard, raised her arms up above her head in the shape of a heart.

“We love you!” she called.