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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • “The Pure Pleasure of Sound”: Steev Kindwald´s life with the double flute Alghoza

    Steev Kindwald is playing the Indian double flute Alghoza for 20 years now. Only after 20 years “one is able to make the instrument sound well”, said his master in Rajasthan once – provided one devotes his time fully and completely to study the Alghoza. Playing the Alghoza is the first thing after waking up and the last thing right before going to bed. Steev plays the double flute several hours per day. He says, it is so much more than merely playing and practicing the instrument. Playing the Alghoza is a state of being, a way of life. And it’s also a balancing act between assimilation and diversification: the art of living like those people that have internalised the Alghoza up to the point of perfection. At the same time, to develop one’s own style of that music, and to form it individually. Helen Hahmann interviewed Steev Kindwald (who also is a recognised expert for asian mouth harps) in the summer of 2019 at DAN MOI in Taucha, Germany.

    Steev Kindwald playing the double flute Alghoza

    What was it like to learn the double flute in India with a local master?

    If you´re playing these instruments, it can be an enormous commitment, particularly among musician castes, if you want to join and get in, you should do it correctly, you should respect it. And obviously, if you give more, then you get more. On the other hand, you don’t want to become a puppet and just copy traditions.

    My main master was very clear. He said for the double flute, “When you learn these songs, it´s only the beginning, it´s very little, it´s almost nothing. You learn the song – Ok. But then, where are the variations?” So every man and every women (in this case it´s men, because they play the double flute) have their variation of their faith and style. As westerners and modern people we may forget that we don´t just copy the songs, we actually play variations. And your variation and mine will be different and then it becomes art and genuine culture.

    What did your master for the double flute tell you, when you approached him with the desire to learn his music?

    Well, he said, “If you want to play such music, you need to live the same as we do as best as you can. You don´t play your music in our house, you play our music only.” Certainly they would not teach me their language directly, because it´s rather secret, because that´s their private space. In India, private space seems not to be based on physical space, so they create a space for themselves with language. So he said, “You wear the clothing we do, you sleep as we sleep, you eat as we eat, you get sick as we get sick, you drink as we drink and you play as we play and you do the best you can.” Then you can perhaps get the spirit.

    Many young people, who spend their time with technology, their music sounds like that. And then the older generation, they look physically very different as well, spend their time definitely with nature and animals, day and night. They live in those very natural conditions and eat natural food and speak the older language and wear traditional clothing, which is not a costume for them. It is their clothing. Those people definitely have a different sound in vibration and colour.

    For how many years are you learning to play the double flute?

    My teacher said after 20 years the good sound will start to come! So, I´m now with the double flute for 20 years and I´ve been visiting the desert regions as regularly as I can over the past 20 years. My rule is, when I become very sick, I need to leave the village and take a break. It´s a sort of energy saying, “it´s time to do your practice”, because the masters can teach you, it´s very fine, but you have to practice! The practice is almost spiritual in India. The practice is the very big center. So you practice ideally in the very early morning before you put any water on your face, before any tea, before anything, so your body just wakes up and starts doing these things. So there are two questions I´m often asked, when I return: How is your family? And, how many hours do you practice daily? This is another way of dealing with music and arts and your body, because this music is very physical. We are doing a lot of breathing and rhythmic control and sometimes very fast technical layered patterns, it becomes something that is very physical, but also very mental. One could say, these intense experiences of daily practice for 20 years are re-programming our DNA and it becomes a sort of automatism.

     

     

    It sounds like a very hard way to learn and to live?

    It´s just really committed, you know. I think, it depends on what you do with your life energy. Hard or not. It´s just putting in your time for this. Hard may be a modern view. I wouldn´t say, “it´s hard”, it´s just what we do. We wake up and do this until we sleep in the village while the hot winds blow, it´s very simple, or until you just can not do it any longer! My teacher and I would do these “trance/fill in patterns”, we call them “Lehras”. He would put down his watch and would say, “20 minutes one pattern, you start now”. So we could say, it is a hard method for a western system, but you actually learn very well! If you do these kind of things, you play 20 minutes one pattern, you´ll forget your name! It´s really a yogic method in the sense of dealing with sound. In Japanese, there is a simple translation of the word music : “The pleasure of sound”.

    What is the history of the double flute, where does it come from?

    Its history does actually seem to be based on being with animals. In the desert, the animal is central to everything: to the clothes, to the traditional houses, to the fire, to the food, to the drink, and to the way of life. So the animals have enormous influence. Basically there are goats and camels, and some water buffalo and cows, and now there are sheep coming, but that´s very modern as they are not so suited to the climate. There are a few horses, too, but it´s not common as providing the right food is challenging. We would say, the majority is goats and the minority is us humans! So, how we speak with the animals influences the music, which is very classic for shepherds worldwide. This shepherd culture is mixed with a kind of Sufism. The Sufism that spread in this area is mixed up with the stories of the Indus Valley civilization.

    So as a matter of fact no one seems to know or care where these double flutes came from! The history is alive and traditional people often have little interest as they are still in the flow of life as it were. They might have come from Europe as there are many double flute traditions in Southern Europe that root back to the time of Alexander the Great in today’s Macedonia, I think. That is a very strong possibility and indeed surprising as we often imagine that many things came from Asia to Europe – absolutely not, things came from many directions! I can not find any old images of double flutes anywhere despite many years of research. The older double flute music is known to have come into the Indian subcontinent through the Balochistan region of Iran.

    Why I chose this region (or it was chosen for me!)? This particular area, technically, has one of the most advanced and living traditions of the double flute in the world. I fell in love with the desert and I often sense its call – even in my free time I often wander there at night in the sands.

    What are the names of the double flute and what are they used for?

    There are so many names. The classical name anybody uses in the modern world is Alghoza (Algooja). Then also Satara, we call them Pava, Jodiya Pava, or Jori, or Joria, Beenoon. There are so many different names, but you are simply dealing with two whistle flutes and many variations of these flutes and many many kinds of tunings. They are used for calling rain, for thanking the rain, for various ceremonies, for ancestor and trance work, and for singing poetry (we play the poetry of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif). In the Balochistan region they are openly dealing with a lot of trance work. There is trance work in Rajasthan, too, but I´ve never seen it, it´s quite secret. Perhaps that is the best way to protect such important inner work. Most double flute people are shamans, however they would never tell you this! So it´s an instrument connecting nature and daily life, trance and story-telling.

    Steev Kindwald playing triple flute

    How is music integrated in the social life of Rajasthan?

    The lineage of musician caste I´m dealing with is, verified on paper, 600 to 800 years old and generally it doesn´t get broken, it never shall get broken! However, there are people that are just not good musicians, which does happen every now and then, so they take up farming or work in the textile industry. The musician castes work under a patronage system. They work under the Sindhi-Sipahi, which is one type of Sindhi guardian caste, shepherds. The musicians work for them and play their ceremonies and, perhaps more importantly, sing the songs of their lineage. So basically the musicians are genealogists, which is quite common in a lot of older human cultures. The family of the patron gets bigger, so the families of the musicians inevitably get bigger, too, and you get an enormous network of relationships. They live from this music, and after the ceremonies they would get paid with gifts like animals, grains or today it is even gold or money as well. And then there are private ceremonies for marriages, circumcisions, death ceremonies, and even poetry for older men’s stories. There is an incredible variety of ceremonies involving family life cycles. Then there is also the music of the Sufi saints, that is something else altogether!

    Have you been able to learn some of this repertoire?

    Certainly. To protect their work, the caste I´m involved with is traditionally not allowed to teach you their music. So when you´re there and you know this, you don´t even think of requesting or trying their actual music as that can bring your relationship to an end! I studied their repertoire myself, but then I ask them what is suitable that goes outside of their personal repertoire. You need to know the rules in order to have a trustful relationship with those people. But they are not going to tell you this, so the minute you start requesting their songs, maybe they just say, “Ok, let´s have tea, it´s time to go home.” So they will try to take care of themselves, and that makes sense to me.

    Can you describe the double flute a bit more in detail? What does the instrument mean to you?

    We are basically talking about two whistle flutes or recorders. One is the drone, which we call “Nar”, meaning cane reed as they were made of this material in former times. That is the male part. The other flute is the chanter/singer we call “Madi”, and it´s female. I play them every day for 20 years. It´s only 20 years, it means only starting, but it´s enough to feel that it’s part of my life. For me, this particular form of double flute is a treasure for humanity. You are working with very simple objects in a sense, but because they are in a pair the matching must be perfect. You are dealing with something that is very difficult to balance despite its simplicity. We have a drone and a singer, we have an octave and 2 or 3 notes up and 4 to 5 notes below, depending on the fingering you´re using.

    To explain the double flute technique: Constant circular breath either steady in the Doha or introduction and then rhythmic breath following the notes and melody. The flutes are in a non-attached pair so the drone needs to be stable and always in tune with the chanter so the player is often doing subtle movements to fine tune the pair of instruments while using the tongue and breath accents to give various types of staccato – and let us not forget the melody and its accompanying patterns, which are also used as a communication context, because the melodies are songs and poetry with well known themes. And the octave is achieved by delicate cross-fingering while the drone is stable plus following the rhythm. So ultimately one has a complete instrument playing melodies and variatons in a clear rhythm with a drone and various modes within each drone as that note can be retuned. There are at least 8 possibilites of tuning and modes within each tuning plus transposition depending on the skill of the player. It keeps one’s breath engaged! Since it is so physically demanding, I make an effort to keep healthy, especially while on tour and performing regularly.

    Everyone seems to enjoy the double flute anywhere you go. That is very interesting as I have seen this joy from the vibration of the double flute in my performance in over 15 countries! Even if they don´t know what it is, it does not matter, it always seems to bring happiness or pleasure. It seems to be something humans connect to, and it is definitely quite alive in the desert regions that I go to.

    Which repertoire are you playing?

    I´m mixing four or five double flute traditions and pieces that originally aren’t double flute songs, but that I adopted. Recently, I adapted a lot of tunes from the Nar, the ancient four-holed Ney style flute of that region. I´m also mixing Japanese songs or Indonesian arpeggios. My phrasing is Jazz and of course I have my own self-created repertoire. When I meet with traditional desert musicians, they would say, „Open up your heart, show me what you know, play something for me“. The first time I played for my master, his first word from his mouth was, “ah, Jazz, that´s Jazz!”. I was very impressed that he knew of this kind of music and thought, “ok then, that´s what it is.” It´s that phrasing that we know from childhood. The musical or cultural side from my family I know is from Transylvania. That kind of music is rather similar, it tends to be very fast, you are dealing with a lot of changes, music that is based on drones, pedal points and modes, so it´s not that far away. Now I´m mixing even more and more, using a lot of different rhythms and changing modes. In India, you generally should not change the mode within the songs, but in Persian music you can. I love to do this, it creates the blue-note-effect. We are playing consciously, which is the very point here. It´s not only music. We are playing and it does something to you; It´s about the effect, not just the form.

     

    What do you want to achieve with your music?

    When traditional people share their music, we can say it´s a gift. In reality, it´s a responsibility once you start getting into the culture. I´m deeply satisfied to live from my music. Inspiring people is extremely important, as so many have inspired me! And to continue this work, because it is really a pleasure. When I perform 3 to 5 nights a week, I´m very happy. I practice many hours daily anyway, so it´s very easy and natural. Really, it´s ecstatic music. To bring people inner joy, outer joy, to bring them pleasure, to bring them feelings or something inside of themselves, you are dealing with states of consciousness.

    I have also compiled a huge body of traditional field recordings over the years, which have not been published yet. I pay the artists who I recorded. I discreetly take care of the families, of their problems, that´s what I put my life into. Some of these traditions are actually going away, so it might be the time to release them. I have compiled an enormous body of recordings of jaw harp music from central and eastern Indonesia, a lot of double flute music and I have recorded all the Nar masters in India (the ancient four-holed Ney flute of this desert region), that I could find. I have only seen nine masters in 20 years, that is not enough as they are so rare now! I´m also interested in and have recorded a lot of traditional trance/ecstatic festivals in Asia, meaning trance where people are working with states of consciousness in a spiritual context. I worked with a lot of tribal people in Burma and the border in Thailand for many years, to honor these traditions and maybe inspire people for the future.

    My most recent work has been the triple flute that I developed where there is one drone and 2 chanters in non-unison tuning that can play across each other in both legato and staccato. One really needs to open up for that kind of breath! And the other one is my creation, too, the Jajbina, a 1.5 metre cross-blown circular breath based trance pipe! She has 7 registers and is still in development after around 12 years of intensive practice. There are only a few limits in the realm of deep practice and breath! And I must not forget the Saluang – the trance flute of the Minangkabau people in Sumatera, where I do research on their trance flute traditions – 4 holes in a large piece of bamboo blown almost exclusively in the multhiphonic mode with circular breath!

    Jajbina:

     

    Triple flute:

     

    Saluang:

     

    Which other flute cultures did inspire you?

    In the last seven or eight years I´ve been very strongly interested in music archaeology. I´m reproducing a lot of the ice age and other period flutes. By the way, the oldest undisputed flutes/clarinets are found in Germany! I´m also working with the ISGMA, the International Study Group of Music Archaeology. We work with musical instruments to see where humans come from. So we know that 41.000 years ago humans knew the second, the minor third, the fifth, the octave. I have verified that now from many working models. The blockflute we know existed at least 32.000 years ago. And then there is the whole world of ancient Egypt – a fascinating variety of flutes I have worked on...

    What does it feel to play on replicas of ancient flutes and to reproduce ancient sounds?

    When you play paleolithic flutes you definitely will find these great in effect. I was playing some of the findings I made copies of from Hohle Fels in the Ach-valley, the Ice Age period flutes/clarinets from Germany. I was playing them for some people at the Ancient Trance Festival and there was definitely quite an effect, because this is from your ancestors, the sound of them. Mammoth hunters, very strong people without a doubt, who survived several ice ages. They were living and travelling in valleys where there were microclimates. I consider a lot of these instruments as time machines. So recently I´m interested in collecting antique Japanese Shakuhachi. When people say, “why would you want this, they are hard to play and out of tune. I said, „well, because they are time machines that show us a window of sounds that are indeed in tune within the context of the period of non-westernized Japan”.

    So you play with time and the concept of memories. When you dispose of the concept of equally tempered tuning, which has only existed actively for less than 200 years, you are basically playing with frequencies of all of our ancestors and the nature which has nurtured our species.

  • Make the Tradition move forward: Mouth Harps played and handcrafted by Steev Kindwald

    Steev Kindwald unites diverse cultural influences as a musician and instrument maker like no one else. He absorbed a huge part of his playing technique on the double flute Alghoza and different mouth harps in Asia, mainly in India and Southeast Asia. He also takes his inspiration from old instruments, indeed very old instruments from museum collections or even archaeological excavations. Steev’s taste for complex, rhythmic structures roots back to his origins. A part of his family originates from Transylvania, Romania. Steev had a chat with Helen from Dan Moi about his encounters with instrument makers in Asia and furthermore about his approach to making bamboo mouth harps.

    What is your style of playing Jaw Harp?

    Mountain Flamenco Gong Trance Ceremony Carpathian Rishi Monk Jogi Carnatic Jazz!!! I have learned many traditional tunes, I mix a lot of different things together. I try to create elements within that, moving bass tones, very simple short patterns and mix them together in layers.

    I do a lot of rhythmic play, a lot of asymmetric rhythms, that´s my great passion. Which may be my Transylvanian side, Carpathian mountains really, where there is a lot of these different rhythms, and then I hybridize it, because it´s fun to play in 15 or 9 or 27 or 13--4 as well! Each rhythm has a frequency and then you are playing with those different patterns.

    Accented breath and control of the sound colour is what can make the Jaw Harp something fabulous! My goal is ever to push my limits and add yet another layer of sound to the Jaw Harps song.

    When I play traditional tunes from the desert, the easiest ones are the pentatonic tunes, they are much more clear. When I play for traditional people, if they hear the tune, then it´s right. Always when I´m performing, I imagine I´m in front of a very traditional person. And when they are satisfied, then it´s good. That´s my litmus test of quality. In the sum total; one needs to go to the heart of the audience.

    Which music inspired and shaped you?

    Firstly, the sounds of nature are a constant inspiration since starting to play the Jaw Harp around age 12 -- 37 years ago. Playing while wandering the forests, rivers and lakes of my village.

    I grew up in a culture of listening to epic classical western music plus hard bop jazz, going to bluegrass, jazz and blues festivals all the time. I was very fortunate, because there were also all these vinyl LPs of ethnic music at our local library in the village, from the time when there was no electricity in many areas where they were recorded. I was listening to music from Kashmir, Iran, Balinese and Javanese Gamelan, Morocco, India, records of gagaku orchestras of China, Korea, and Okinawa, Japan.

    These old scratchy disks, of often poor quality recordings, are really amazing genuine performances; These were the references for me and continue to be -- 99 percent of the music made on this planet and in the human history is this natural human music.

    I have passed the last 20 plus years almost constantly travelling for the music, mostly in Asia among tribal ethnicities, Sufis, nomads and Gypsy/Roma peoples. I have since studied with master players and makers from Nepal and Tibetan Himalaya to the Indian deserts to south India classical to mountain tribals in various parts of Southeast Asia to Genggong ensembles in central Indonesia.

    My focus is not to merely reproduce traditions but to put this into my art to create original rooted hybrids that entrance!

    Where did you learn to make Jaw Harp and with whom do you work with when making Jaw Harps?

    Where I fell in love wandering in the desert ==== In the western region of Rajasthan I have been with two Morchang forging families since the last 20 years now. I see the older generation pass, the middle generation is still active and the younger generation may pick up the tradition.

    They work with their hands constantly. There are no machines other then a light bulb occasionally when they work in the night. I assist, I learn from them, we collect the metals, we try to improve the quality, if their hands or their eyes are becoming damaged, it´s time to take a break. I often cook for them, we eat and drink together. We see the animals get sick, and we try to take care.

    It´s kind of a whole life experience. Of cause they don´t just make jaw harps. They are basically nomads at heart. Most of the older generation, until the age 15 to 30, have travelled in donkey carts from village to village repairing tools and selling items they have made of metal. So they have great stories and are fascinating people;

    Because they are considered low caste, they are dealing with all sorts of people who need their metal items. They are dealing with both high and low caste Hindus, with every variety of Muslim you can imagine, with Gypsy people, tribals, even foreigners!; so they are really between all the worlds, they are quite magical people, though that may be considered a cliché, its still true!

    I have studied, researched and worked with makers in east Bali since 1999, different parts of Java, western India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and Japan. In the mountain in Lao PDR I visited and researched several families, where they make these incredibly detailed Jaw Harps from scrap war materials, which actually would be hard to make with a machine.

    Even their tools are made by themselves! A lot of their handwork is so fine, you could not cut it with a laser! They have developed techniques that would be more advanced than most machines even today.

    The gap on a high quality handmade Genggong of palm stem wood between the tongue and frame is around 0.2mm -- a Swiss watches acceptable degree of error is 0.3mm...

    What is your approach to make Jaw Harps?

    I prefer handwork. Occasionally I use a soldering iron to do detailed burning patterns and the rest is handwork and as little tools as possible, just like the masters and teachers work who I´ve been around over the years.

    When I make instruments people often ask me, is this traditional or did you make it?, because we don´t know the difference anymore! That´s good, that keeps the roots. So I´m creating Jaw Harps based on traditions and hybrids as well, because that makes the tradition move forward.

    My recent obsession is perfecting the double Genggong that plays 2 distinct tones in one instrument -- it does not really exist in traditions and that is exciting!

    You had a box with dozens of Jaw Harps in, what instruments are you collecting in this „Magic Jaw Harp Box“?

    There are different kinds of bamboo, palm stem and brass mouth harps, most of which I have made. A lot of them are string activated which is called Genggong in Malay-Indonesian where it´s most famous.

    These are the instruments that really pulled my heart, so to speak, because they are very exciting. People love them as they produce a sound unimaginable and they are very pleasurably challenging to play.

    In the box you see harps, that I collected in Java, Eastern Bali, most of the instruments I make are modelled from the museum collection in Berlin where I worked on the catalogue. They come from late 19th and early 20th century collections. I do accurate reproductions of these instruments and compare them with the living tradition mostly in places that I have travelled almost non stop the last 20 years seeking the perfect sound.

    In my village as a child my first Jaw Harp was this snoopy harp which is rather low quality but very sturdy! In fact if you really push the instrument and you know how to play with the frame gap you start getting harmonics and vibrations that are strong.

    When people learn on this difficult instruments, they become quite good, because they have to push the instrument. It´s often best to start on a difficult instrument for study to develop a sense of dynamics and strength.

    From which instruments do you get your inspiration from to make your Jaw Harps?

    When I make instrument it should be high quality. Once you know these traditional instruments you are more satisfied. I´m doing a lot of hybrids and reproducing Jaw Harps from Himalaya, Tibet, Borneo 19th century pieces, Sakhalin island. And Papua has metal jaw harp the recent years in the spirit of recycling metal. So the instruments I make are very stable, with a good quality sound and something that inspires people. The sounds people love and if they are willing to take time, they will learn them.

    There are also instruments from India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Lao PDR and Japan. I buy from these makers since many years and I often work with them directly when possible. I find people who work with their hands fascinating; They live with their world, with the things they make, they are often very connected. They have shared an enormous amount of knowledge with me and they have deeply influences me, it´s the time to create and work with very detailed decorations.

    Working in metals, learning how to process the bamboo (that is a large world) and materials so that they are stable and solid. I collect most of the bamboo myself in Japan, Lao PDR, Burma, Nepal, Northern Thailand -- in Indonesia I collect a lot of palm stem in mountain forest gardens which is always an adventure!

    Such material you cannot buy in a shop! A common technique in the past was make Jaw Harps and other tools from very hard and stable smoked bamboo from the roof of the house where there was a daily fire -- up to 200 years in some cases! So when I see a traditional old house being taken down its time to find bamboo!

    Do you have any evidence for how old the Jaw Harp might be?

    There are instruments from Papua New Guineawhich we would tap directly with our hand instead of pulling or striking it, and, they may be the oldest style considering they have an idioglottal reed rather than proto Jaw Harps.

    To strike an instrument directly is more in the mind of a stone age person and those instruments can indeed be easily made with stone tools by cracking and shaving the bamboo. We know people have been living on Papua Island between 20.000 to 60.000 years at the least! One can imagine those instruments are at least 30.000 years old likely older, but of course bamboo does not last easily in the archaeological record.

    What would this music have sounded like? Today some people say the mouth harp is an analog synthesizer and music must have sounded much more like todays modern music long time ago.

    We don´t know, but when you live with these instruments and you play them all the time, not to study, but as a part of your life, you will discover a clear picture of what sounds these instruments can give.

    Papua Island where the Jaw Harp is active since millenia, has the most concentrated number languages in the world, they have an enormous variety of languages because of the isolation of each valley and constant ritualistic warfare. A lot of Asian Jaw Harp music seems to be based on speech, for example Hmong music is communication, talking, riddles, poetry, love play, secret things that you can not express with your mouth. So you are dealing with a communication, natural sounds and effects on the mind and the body.

    The phase filter sound processing harmonics along with arpeggios by using glottal stops method is what reminds people of an analog synthesizer which is essentially chips made of quartzite rich sand --- now that is something to consider...

    How do you choose what to play in a concert?

    Smell the air and proceed! Of course, I always have tunes pre-planned, but always it is best to finally let the mood set the music framework.

    I love to request numbers from the audience to construct an improvised rhythm, challenging myself by giving a sound shape to a number. The point is to give them something that nourishes them and will be remembered in their dreams.

    Would you mind playing a piece on one of your mouth harps for us?

    This Jaw Harp, the lubuw (lubu), is from a Taiwanese tribal group and has 3 reeds. It is activated by snapping the string and angling the frame to play the correct reed while covering the other reeds so they do not resonate and this gives a clear sound --- however, sometimes there are other reeds resonating while I change reed and that give a special colour.

    Many of the tribal groups of Taiwan have these instruments, it is well know among for Ami and Atayal people among other tribes in Taiwan. While the frame is made of bamboo, the tongues are made from metal. Traditionally these were hammered out of belt buckles from colonial people, because what other source of metal would such people have in earlier times?
    The image of Taiwan today and tribal Taiwan is very different. Tribal Taiwanese would have been tattooed people doing extraordinarily complicated weaving, wearing colorful patterned clothing and having an incredible variety of instruments, very delicate instruments which are quite complicated to play.

    When you play all these different instruments, you must play with a certain frame of mind, a certain consciousness. For example, when you spend many years playing 3 or more reeded jaw harps you potentially will also play with your mental state.

    You are working with different mental states. So if you work with your hands for many years, your hands become very active and fluid. So when you are playing these instruments you end up feeling ideas of how these people perhaps lived or how we could live. You are receiving intangible information essentially ---- and when you play it, you are resonating intangible information.

     

    * in the DAN MOI shop you will find mouth harps handcrafted by Steev Kindwald. Each one of them is unique.

  • 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/

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