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Beyond the daily grind: an imaginary trip with the jaw harp player Yoeman

Joachim Hellmann is well-known for his jaw harp passion in his home region, the Uckermark. For a living, he teaches qi gong and taijiquan and works as an educational staff member at a primary school. Sometimes, he also plays jaw harp with the kids. And every now and then, he is being asked whether he could play a little piece just out of fun with his little pocket instrument. He is also present with his jaw harp in camps and on festivals. On such occasion he uses his pseudonym Yoeman. He says, the jaw harp is great fun and with it it's easy to get in touch. It connects people. The jaw harp is also perfectly suited for spending moments on one's own, special moments such as after Yoeman's stage appearance in the summer of 2019 at the Ancient Trance Festival.

As it has become quiet on the market square of the town of Taucha, the last festival booths tables are being folded down and bracelets, dream catchers and other coloured items are being stowed away in boxes. On the stage, a technician puts away the last cables. After the concert, a group of people is sitting on the warm cobblestone and lets the rest of the day just pass by. At the edge of the stage, Yoeman is talking to one of his listeners as he stows away his jaw harps and a bottle of water in his rucksack. With a joyful feeling of energy and exhaustion that stems from an hour of energizing stage show he shoulders his baggage, bids the festival visitor farewell and swiftly moves through the stage speakers to the other side of the road. The empty parking spot behind one of the town houses of Taucha is the perfect spot for a time-out. When a cat passes the motion sensor or Yoeman makes a sweeping movement a house light is being turned on and blinds the summer darkness for a couple of moments. Yoeman lets himself fall onto a bank that is leaning against a house wall. He puts down the rucksack in front of him and takes a deep breath.

He draws a wooden box with the size of a picture book out of his rucksack. He opens the clasp and the lid, and he looks in a contemplative manner at the instruments that rest in little compartments after the recent live performance. Yoeman reaches for the Vargan that was made by a blacksmith from the Urals. With it, one can evoke beautifully deep and relaxing trance sounds. He gently strokes the tongue and lets the tone sound until its very end. How can one describe the relationship to one's instruments? Mostly, Yoeman intuitively reaches the jaw harp that suits best the very mood he is in. His thoughts roam back to the concert. Today, the music naturally evolved away from the original plan. Here in Taucha the plan that worked so well at the last concert evolved into something different. The flow carried Yoeman away. It all comes down to the energy in the room and the auditory. When the people are following, are fully in the moment and at ease, then you can let the music come. One can rely on the main points that have evolved during 30 years of playing: playing techniques, original songs, and instinct.

Yoeman has a quick peek on the Vargan and puts it back into the box. His gaze stops at a jaw harp from the Ukraine. Bought for quite a fair price and well-playable, with a nice atmosphere. Ideal for workshops, but also perfect for playing just for oneself. A funky instrument. You can play a slow beat with a lot of overtones and build finger stops into the flow, same as with the jaw harps from Zoltán Szilágyi and Andreas Schlütter, which Yoeman prefers for this playing technique.

This Ukrainian jaw harp lies solidly in one's hand. Yoeman encloses it with his left hand to remember it. The metal is still quite warm from the summer air and feels exceptionally soft. This instrument can be easily held when played for a longer time. When the music is completely without any loops or effects as is the case with Yoeman's the firm grasp between the fingers allows one to play over minutes without stops, breaks or dropping the instrument. One can easily cope with the fact that with this instrument one does without playing fast beats. It is merely one of those criteria for Yoeman to choose the right jaw harp for the right song and the right mood.

Back then in the 80's, when Yoeman went to school in the East German town of Suhl and stumbled into the local music shop, where he discovered the jaw harp, probably no one would have assumed this instrument would be a life-long companion for him. In hindsight, the coincidence could not have been greater as this music shop in Suhl was the only one in East Germany that sold jaw harps from the near-by workshop of Friedrich Schlütter in Zella-Mehlis. Once a listener after a concert asked how his long relationship with the jaw harp actually began and he replied: "I have been playing the jaw harp quite often. For me, it was a nice way to get in touch with music, an easy one, too. At some point, I made a leather mount for my jaw harp. At the beginning of the 90's I even went 2 or 3 times on stage. About 10 years ago, I played a bit on the jaw harp at the Ökotopia Festival, and some people there asked me whether I'd know the Ancient Trance Festival. With my family, I went directly from one festival to the other and since then I go to the Ancient Trance every year."

Sitting here on this bench at the marketplace of Taucha having finished an exciting concert for the auditory of the Ancient Trance he is becoming aware how close the connection to the festival and his instruments have grown over the last years. In the beginning, he just watched the other jaw harp artists play and at some point he wondered why he wouldn't give a concert himself. The stage appearances happened more often – not only in Taucha. When being on the road with his family in summertime Yoeman is playing as a street musician his own songs, and he recorded those on CD as well. The festival in Taucha has become a source of inspiration for him. It is here where he listened to the breath-taking beats of Aron Szilágyi and the Airtists. Music that influenced his way of playing, which years ago already intuitively combined voice and beat box.

In the Uckermark region, Yoeman with his jaw harp often appears as an exotic. Sometimes, at his workshop events he is welcoming groups of 50 people, where only 10 of them know the jaw harp. The special thing about such moments is the instant curiosity of the people. "How do you do that?", they ask. The jaw harp connects, is fun and helps to unwind. And at the Ancient Trance Festival a jaw harp player feels like finally coming home. Yoeman realizes he still clutches to the Ukrainian jaw harp in his hands. He takes it to his mouth and plays a short fast melody with a lot of finger stops. – Every time he is playing only to himself a new space opens and carries him away from time, place and the daily grind.

Website & CD of Yoeman: https://yoema-wuoap.jimdofree.com/reinhören/