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Jew's Harps

This category is dedicated to the jaw harp. History and background info, new models, playing tips etc.
  • Mindigafur Zainetdinov shows a tremolo on the Bashkirian Kubyz

    Mindigafur Zainetdinov at the Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014As soon as Mindigafur Zainetdinov picks up one of his jew's harps, a smile flits across his face. With his back ramrod-straight and standing with his feet apart, he takes up his position in front of the microphone and puts his Bashkirian Kubyz to his lips. His smile remains when Mindigafur plays the Kubyz. "I was the 11th child in our family. All of my siblings play the Kubyz, as do my parents. My mother taught me how to play the Kubyz. It's a family tradition."

    Mindigafur Zainetdinov was born in a small town in the Republic of Bashkortostan and now lives as a jew's harp virtuoso and teacher in Ufa. Mindigafur plays the Kuraj flute in addition to the Bashkirian jew's harp, the Kubyz. Kubyz and Kuraj are amongst the traditional musical instruments of Bashkiria. Mindigafur plays both instruments, among others, in the Bashkirian State Philharmonic.

    Mindigafur Zainetdinov plays the Kuraj Fluteat the Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014 Mindigafur plays the Kuraj flute

    "You can play every kind of music on the jew's harp. I play the melodies of traditional Bashkirian folk songs but also I like to extemporize. Naturally I can also play pop tunes and I regularly perform with a jazz band." Moreover he can be heard in a duet with the Russian photographer and jew's harp player Olga Prass. "Many people in Bashkiria play the Kubyz, there are contests where more than 500 jew's harp players compete." There is no lack of up-and-coming players. As a teacher, the master of the Kubyz still teaches a total of 200 children how to play the jew's harp and last but not least receives public recognition for this.

    You can really speak of a renaissance in playing the Kubyz, Mindigafur Zainetdinov emphasizes. The former Soviet union was not interested in the tradition of the Bashkirian jew's harps. For a while, the knowledge of how to play the Kubyz and how to manufacture it were in danger of being forgotten. The instruments only appeared rarely for private use and were not at all present in public. The close link between the music of the Kubyz and the practice of shamanism did not mesh well with Stalinist cultural policy. This approach changed completely after the fall of the Soviet Union. By now the jew's harp Kubyz is a recognized and appreciated musical instrument in Bashkiria.

    Yet Mindigafur has been playing the Kubyz for at least 25 years and masters the playing techniques perfectly. With a precise touch, he coaxes clearly articulated melodies from his jew's harp and is particularly impressive in his tremolo method of playing.

    Mindigafur Zainetdinov at the Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014 Mindigafur Zainetdinov plays theTremolo technique

    At the same time, he puts the thumb of his right hand on his right cheekbone. The remaining fingers of the right hand, beginning with the little finger, pluck the metal tongue inwards in a fluid motion, producing short trill-like pulses. Mindigafur enlivens the melodies by executing this playing technique with a varying number of fingers. Sometimes the middle finger and index finger embellish a melody with interval notes, sometimes three or four fingers are used.

    Mindigafur Zainetdinov at the Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014 With Wooden String-plucked Jew's Harp

    In addition to metal jew's harps, Mindigafur Zainetdinov also plays wooden plucking jew's harps. "In order to make a sound with these instruments, it is necessary to learn breathing control especially well. Anyway, it is very healthy to play the jew's harp, it is like a massage for the lungs". Not least of all because of a virtuoso combination of several twanging and breathing techniques, Mindigafur Zainetdinov has received several championship titles, amongst other awards. in Jakutsk and Molln in Austria, as well as national state awards. Mindigafur has also made some jew's harps himself, however he does not have a lot of time to make his own instruments regularly due to the fact that he is beside Robert Zagretdinov one of the most internationally sought after virtuosos of the jew's harp and an ambassador of the Bashkirian tradition of playing the jew's harp. As a musician he does not only represent the jew's harp, he is also an ambassador of Bashkirian culture. Mindigafur Zainetdinov's smile remains on his lips as he elicits an amazing range of coloratura from the Kubyz. Maybe it is also and exactly this smile which gives the kubyz sound of Mindigafur its distinctive touch.

  • A look over the shoulder of jew's harp maker Petr Osipov

    Jew's Harp Black Smith Petr Osipov from YakutiaPetr Fedotovich Osipov has been fascinated by the jew's harp for as long as he can remember. Already as a child, he sat with musicians who picked up their khomus, the jew's harp of the Yakut people, occasionally listening to them for hours. In 1980, when he finally met one of the traditional Yakut jew's harp makers, Kiril Kirilovich Maltev, he began to learn from him - and later from other artisans - the art of khomus fabrication. He acquired his skills from some of the best Yakut khomus makers. This education still characterises the instruments from his workshop: Petr Osipov produces khomuses in the traditional old style, without ornament or embellishment, without technical distinctiveness or experimental shapes. It is a question of innate bearing.

    In order to make a good jew's harp, according to Petr Osipov, it is not necessary to follow a technical manual but more importantly to have an intrinsic feeling for the musical instrument. "When producing a jew's harp it is important that you be involved, body and soul. Patience is required. You create an idea in your head, you pray - call it whatever you want - you simply ask that this khomus be able to create the best possible sounds from now on." Producing a khomus can take a very long time. Jew's harp makers of earlier times devoted themselves totally to the person for whom the harp was intended. First they came to know the person thoroughly, asking about his or her life, feelings, desires and dreams. They also attempted to ascertain the person's nature and character. The artisan began to work the material and manufacture the khomus only after this familiarization phase. Today there are completely different technological options that shorten production time. The interpersonal aspect is increasingly absent. Petr Osipov maintains that it is evident in the sound of a jew's harp if the maker is lacking this spiritual component.

    Petr Osipov at the DAN MOI stand - Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp and World Music 2014 Petr Osipov visiting the Dan Moi stand at Ancient Trance Festival for Jew's Harp & World Music 2014

    Since Petr Osipov gave up his teaching career and went into retirement two years ago, he invests somewhat more time in building jew's harps. Nevertheless, he produces very few instruments. This is not least because Osipov lives in the country and takes daily care of his ten horses, farm, and supply of firewood. He is also representative of the old school of jew's harp making: "I produce jew's harps the traditional way, making time for the people and the instrument. I try to determine if the pitch of the Khomus should be low or high, whether the metal tongue should have a softer or firmer touch. The jew's harps I produce are individualized; they are aligned to each person's unique needs. Therefore, I produce at the very most 200 jew's harps per year." In Yakutia the fabrication of jew's harps is a job for individual instrument makers. A few of them can also make a living from their craft.

    Khomus Jew's Harp made by Petr Osipov Khomus Jew's Harp made by Petr Osipov

    The sound of a Yakutian jew's harp depends on the tension of the tongue. Petr Osipov says that the secret of jew's harp making can be found there. "I have my own technique for making tongues. It is not just that the tongue must fit precisely in the frame: it must also be cast in a particular way." In order to prevent a jew's harp from leaving a metallic taste in the player's mouth, Petr Osipov places the finished harp in a blazing fire for a few minutes. This too, he says, is an old trick of jew's harp makers. The jew's harp maker passes on his knowledge to new generations of Yakuts. He is an invited consultant and workshop leader in all parts of Yakutia. He says, "Sharing these specialized khomus-making skills is also important for musicians. When they play the instrument, they also learn the story of how their khomus was made." Osipov has been officially recognized as a khomus maker by the People of the World Khomus Museum and Center in Yakutsk.

    There is a saying in Yakutia:  "Bury your parents in a casket," which means "Take care of your parents." Petr Osipov follows this wisdom by making wooden caskets for his jew's harps. They are shaped like animal hooves. This gives the khomuses a solid support, especially to protect them against becoming bent. Petr Osipov is a passionate maker of Yakut jew's harps. He shares his craftsman's philosophy with interested people from all over the world, not least as a guest at international gatherings of jew's harp experts in Austria, Germany and Norway. A few times, as he relates, international guests have even visited his workshop in Khampa, Yakutia, and have looked over his shoulder during the production of a khomus. So did DAN MOI founder Clemens Voigt in 2003, here are some impressions:

  • The Jew's Harp collection of DAN MOI at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    Ancient Trance Festival 2014 - Nahaufnahme Sortiment DAN MOI Maultrommel Stand

    It is probably the largest buyable jew's harp collection that has been displayed by DAN MOI at the 7th Ancient Trance Festival (Aug 8-10) in Taucha near Leipzig (Germany). Accordingly crowed was the DAN MOI musical instruments stand at the festival. The about 300 different jew's harp models have not only been there for watching - Testing and Playing was explicitly welcomed.

    Anne is already visiting the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha for four years.  For her it is part of the festival experience to play through the DAN MOI jew's harp collection. "I find it super exciting to touch and try these far-travelled instruments." says the 26 year old and reaches for a jew's harp from Rajasthan, India. Every year she is making herself a present with a new jew's harp: this year she's going to take the Morchang from Northern India back home to Hof (Saale), Germany.

    Oliver Klimt of DAN MOI explains: "This year we wanted to present the full range of jew's harps we have in stock, which also includes vintage jew's harps that don't even have reeds anymore beside all the playable instruments." On the table there are playable vintage jew's harps, too, like a well preserved jew's harp from the 1930s with an embossing of its origin country England. Another piece comes from Pakistan and has been produced around 1975. "Many of the jew's harp you see here at our stand are hand-wrought, like these from Pakistan, Ukraine, India, Nepal, China or Russia. Others, like some of the jew's harps from Austria, USA and Vietnam are nowadays predominantly produced using machines. The jew's harps made of wood or bamboo come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Indonesia and so on. These are produced by craftswork, too." Oliver Klimt knows the history of almost all trumps in the collection. And it happens every once in a while that he teaches the first basic techniques of playing directly to customers at the stand who hold a jew's harp in their hands for the first time.

    The reason DAN MOI is putting so much effort in presenting the jew's harp collection is last but not least their special relationship with the Ancient Trance Festival. "The first two Ancient Trance Festivals 2007 and 2008 emerged from the idea to build a platform for international jew's harp music in the local area of Leipzig.", DAN MOI founder and jew's harper Clemens Voigt remembers. "As DAN MOI we were already selling jew's harps all over the world since 2001. We have been popular internationally, but in our hometown we haven't been quite apparent. We organised the first two Ancient Trance Festivals in order to get together with musicians, jew's harp makers and fans, and at the same time to introduce us and our work to people in Leipzig and surroundings." The Ancient Trance Festivals - in 2007/2008 still in the winterly town of Leipzig - quickly found a grateful audience. There seemed to be a great interest in listening to live jew's harp music and to learn to play this instrument in workshops. Recognising this DAN MOI started to plan a larger format of the Ancient Trance Festival, uncoupled it from the company and founded in 2008 a registered (non-profit) assosiation together with many friends from Leipzig, the "Maultrommel e.V.", today's organising agency.

    Then as now DAN MOI's second founder Sven Otto, mostly known as Roxi, is deeply involved in the festival conceptually: "The goal of the festival was to make a cultural contribution and to throw a glance at the jew's harp here and now. There are not only traditional ways of playing the trump (jew's harp), but there's a young, creative and very active music community that is worth to get introduced to a larger audience." Making use of the worldwide contacts of DAN MOI the Ancient Trance Festival 2014 managed to bring the congress of the International Jew's Harp Society (IJHS) to Taucha. The IJHS that has established as an international platform for the instrument jew's harp since 1998 attracts musicians, jew's harp makers and scientists (i.e. ethno-musicologists). For Roxi this is definately a peak in the history of the Ancient Trance Festival: "In this year the Ancient Trance is indeed an encounter of generations and cultures -  not least because of the more than 200 congress attendees. The festival program shows the life with the jaw harp in its full range."

    Ancient Trance Festival 2014 - Petr Osipov, Spiridon und Nikolay Shishigin am Stand von DAN MOI mit Oliver und Kai Yakutian jew's harp celebrities at the DAN MOI stand: Spiridon and Nikolay Shishigin (front) and Khomus Master Blacksmith Petr Osipov between Oli and Kai of DAN MOI (back)

    And therefore it was likely to stand right next to a Khomus master play from Yakutia when visiting the DAN MOI stand, or to buy a jew's harp directly from the famous master blacksmith Zagretdinov from Bashkiria, or to listen to the history of this instrument in Japan narrated by an Ainu (minority in Northern Japan) player. For the team of DAN MOI the Ancient Trance Festival is always a very special event - just because of those manifold musical and cultural encounters.  The jew's harp collection of DAN MOI will be there at the next festival, just as Anne will come again. Next time, she says, she is going to get a Norwegian Munnharpe.

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