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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • Like a sound shower: Bernhard Mikuskovics about the Fujara

    The musician, composer and music teacher Bernhard Mikuskovics spoke to Helen from DAN MOI about his very personal story with the Slovakian flute Fujara. "I appreciate the visual beauty of the Fujara; I appreciate the sensation to feel the naturally grown elderberry branch in its current form while playing; I appreciate its unique sound and the feeling of unity with all beings when I produce a sound." Bernhard Mikuskovics plays those sensitive instruments practically everywhere. The sound of the instrument comes either in nature or in a church particularly well into effect. The interview aims at inspiring the listener to try out the Fujara, even at uncommon places – to get out of the own four walls.

    How did you discover the Fujara for yourself?

    BM: Many years ago, way before the big didgeridoo boom in the 90's I started to play the didgeridoo and got to know different musicians. One of those musicians was a Czech who someday brought an instrument with him into a bar that was hidden in a long sack and only the lower part could be seen. At first I thought this would be a didgeridoo and I asked him whether I could take a look at it and he replied that that would be a flute. As I saw it studded with traditional floral patterns I was instantly excited and as I heard its sound I knew the very second I wanted to have such a flute. During a street music gig I got to know a Slovakian musician who I asked whether she would know such a flute. She nodded and replied that even in Slovakia a Fujara would be a rarity. As I met her again for a jam session she told me that she watched a documentary on TV about a man who built the longest Fujara. She wrote down his address and we decided to go together to Central Slovakia to get a Fujara for me.

    From your perspective, what does one need to be mindful about to produce a good sound with the Fujara? Is it complicated to play?

    BM: Naturally, the correct posture during playing is important, upright with the thumb and the middle finger of one hand covering the upper two holes and with the middle finger of the other hand covering the lower finger hole. Equally important is controlling your breath. Apart from playing straight tones you will be able to generate tones with trilling notes in your play. And of course there is the Rozfuk, the powerful rhythmic blow, which is a particularity of this flute that instantly puts a spell on the player and the listener.

    The "complicated thing" about the Fujara is that it has only 3 grip holes, but there are a number of tones that can be produced by using the overblowing technique, fork fingering and partially covering of the grip holes. You get a good idea of the instrument if you enjoy experimenting a lot during playing. 

    What music do you play on the Fujara, how do you use it as a musician?

    BM: That pretty much differs. Basically, the traditional melodies from Podpoľanie, the home of the Fujara in Central Slovakia, just sound great. Since I am not a Slovakian I play only a few of those melodies, though. I like to combine the Fujara with overtone singing, but I also use it for solo improvisation or with other instruments.

    What makes the Fujara special to you?

    BM: The Fujara has quite a few particularities. It starts with its unusual size. But what I find in particular interesting that due to the position of the Fujara the player stands right underneath the spot, where the sound is generated. Like having a sound shower the player is virtually bathing in sounds. I don't know something of the kind with any other instrument.

    Does the Slovakian tradition still play a role for your work with the instrument?

    BM: Only to a certain degree as naturally as I am approaching traditional melodies every now and then through the way I am playing, but it doesn't matter so much for me as I don't speak Slovakian and I don't bear any connection to their traditional context.

    Bernhard Mikuskovics with Dusan Holik (Photo: B. Mikuskovics).

    I find it rather exciting that you went to the Fujara festival in Slovakia! What impression did you get from the Fujara players there and today's meaning of the instrument? 

    BM: First of all this was a fantastic thing, to be invited as a non-Slovakian main artist to such a festival in Detva, which is the centre of the Slovakian folklore tradition. There, I was seen as an exotic due to my way of playing, in particular in combination with overtone singing. That is because the Slovakian Fujara players are strongly connected to traditional ways of playing and to using the Fujara in combination with shepherd/outlaw songs. As I don't speak Slovakian the language barrier prevented me from having deeper talks with the people. Of course, I would have had many questions. But luckily I could get to know the head of organisation of that festival, Dusan Holik. He was a very honourable Fujara player who unfortunately passed away already. 

    How long is your Fujara, to what keynote is it tuned and what sound material are you using? 

    My favourite Fujara that I play most as sound-wise it suits me best, but also as it consists of two parts and is easy to transport, is tuned to keynote G and its length is 170 cm. But I also have Fujaras in keynote H: approx. 135.5 cm; in G sharp: approx. 164.5 cm; in C: approx. 127.5 cm and in G: approx 84.2 cm.

    What can you NOT do with a Fujara?

    With a Fujara you can NOT transpose tone scales.

    What octaves can you play with your instrument?

    On my favourite Fujara I can play four octaves and a few tones above if I count from the deepest tone that is admittedly very quiet and therefore I only use for the outro of my tunes. From the usual keynote upwards it is approximately three and a half octaves. During playing the Fujara I am melodically in the range of the overtones and the mixolydian scale.

  • “Playing the Fujara is like Archery”: Interview with the Fujara player Marco Trochelmann

    In real life, Marco Trochelmann is a high school teacher for music and German. Originally, he is a piano player and drummer, but he discovered the Slovakian bass flute Fujara already during his university studies. The instrument put such a spell on him; he could not take it out of his hands. Until today, he has been producing several Fujara CDs and compositions for the instrument. Marco Trochelmann also conducts workshops on a regular basis and he operates a comprehensive website called tonfinder.de, dedicated to this extraordinary instrument. In an interview with Helen from DAN MOI he talks about his experiences as a cross-boarder musician in Slovakia and provides with an understanding of playing techniques and sound parameters of the Fujara. He says, “I have been living with the Fujara for over 20 years now and for me the instrument has still a lot to do with freedom, namely the freedom to explore and to research.”

     

    How did you discover the Fujara?

    Marco Trochelmann (MT): In 1997, I moved to Berlin to study music and German studies with the aim to become a teacher. My main instrument was the piano and besides that I practiced drumming and singing. I encountered the Fujara in a Berlin student digs. I intended to record some music with a fellow student. But he had a Fujara standing around, which a German instrument maker had stored at his place. The whole evening I tried out the instrument. There are still recordings with the Fujara and a dissected grand piano around from that evening. I was permitted to borrow the instrument. Finally, I had it for 10 years until the instrument maker wanted to have it back.

    When it comes to playing techniques, what must one observe to play the Fujara well?

    MT: You need to listen carefully. The instrument “tells” you, whether something is good or not. You need to practice in a focused and self-critical manner, play a lot and experiment, but more than anything else it is important to give yourself into the instrument, so that listening becomes eavesdropping.

    The fingerings have different “meanings”. The air pressure is decisive for what overtone is being addressed. Over the years, I realized playing the Fujara is like archery. It is pretty easy to shoot an arrow, but to hit what you’d like to hit is much more difficult. The same is true with the Fujara. You can play nice tones rather quickly as you don’t need a specific “approach” if compared to other instruments, but to play the tone that you aim to play is the real challenge. The higher the tone the more difficult it gets. “Easy to play, hard to master” hits the nail on the head for the Fujara.

    How are classical shepherd’s tunes characterized?

    MT: The classical Slovakian shepherd’s song form begins with an initial blow (rozfuk) that has often a personal touch. The connoisseurs of the art are able to distinguish who is actually playing. After a deep “murmur” this flourish changes into a melody. The melody is merely hinted at and is almost played in a jazz-like manner. Listeners that are familiar with the song may already recognize what will be played. Then, the singing part without any instrumental accompaniment follows. In the interludes the Fujara sounds again and at the end the melody is played one more time with the so-called prefuk, also known as woosh. The tonality is usually mixolydian. On the diatonic flute the basis of the most melodies is also a scale that starts at the quint tone of the basic tone, for instance basic tone G – tonality of the melody: D mixolydian (D major with c instead of c sharp).

    What experiences have you gathered at the Fujara festivals in Slovakia?

    MT: At the times of the festivals a lot of stuff happened for me in my little Fujara world. In this respect, 2004, 2008, and 2013 were particularly important years for me. I got to know Pavol Smutny, Winfried Skrobek, Winne Clement, Dusan Holik, Milan Koristek, and many more. Fujara players, makers, friends – people I have communicated through the internet with in the preceding years, people that I may have met on Facebook or Youtube materialized right in front of me and there was a surprising and uncommon atmosphere of familiarity. Exchange, inspiration, motivation, and a sense that things were starting to happen. We played concerts in Detva and Zvolen and performed together on the big stage in Detva during the folklore festival in 2008.

     

    I received quite some praise and acknowledgement for my extraordinary Fujara sound. Many were interested, but there were also critical voices as my play was very far away from the traditional Fujara music.

    Then out of the blue Dusan Holik, the founder and main organizer of the international Fujara festival, passed away after a heart attack in 2017 and currently nobody knows when and where a next international Fujara festival is gonna happen in Slovakia.

     

    What role does the Fujara play in the national culture of Slovakia?

    MT: Today, the Fujara is known in the whole of the country, but it will be mainly played in the Podpol’anie region around Detva. There, the Fujara tradition is still alive. In my point of view, the fact that Slovakians re-discovered the instrument is connected to the UNESCO declaring the Fujara (and its traditional melodies) to the world culture heritage in 2005. That attracted international attention and produced a kind of feedback effect. Many makers realized that the Fujara was acknowledged in other countries and that is why young Slovakians also started to gain interest in the instrument. National groups began to use the Fujara as a status symbol and meanwhile it is also a symbol of Slovakian national pride.

    Is there a scene for the Fujara on an international stage and has there been an upswing of the instrument in recent years?

    MT: I believe, the first international Fujara wave happened at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Back then, the instrument was quite popular with the world music scene in Switzerland. Gérard Widmer started quite early to combine it together with the didgeridoo player Willi Grimm.

    Around the millennium the internet and finally the acknowledgement as UNESCO World Heritage in 2005 were 2 factors that extremely helped. I appear to belong to a group of musicians that have been riding on the second wave.

    Who comes to you to learn the instrument?

    MT: People who encountered the Fujara and who are deeply moved by it and its sound, and now look for a teacher. The stories how the people found their way to the instrument are totally different. Frankly, it is not quite normal to encounter the Fujara and then wanting to play it (except for people in Slovakia perhaps). At my workshops or my private lessons completely different people from diverse parts of the society find their way to me, but I experience all of them as curious people on a quest. Among them, of course we also have the professional musician who feels like getting to know the Fujara and who wants to save some time by getting clear guidance. The people are great and I like it a lot. The Fujara as a reason to meet seems to be a good reason.

  • Mouth Harp Graffiti: An interview with Kian Wind

    German Mouth Harper Kian Wind from Leipzig discovered the Jaw Harp only a few years ago. He got deeply involved with the instrument. Today he is performing his own music on jaw harp and loop machine. Helen from DAN MOI was talking to him about his newly released album "Miluju Tě" and about his participation at the Marranzano World Festival in Catania. We are talking about good mouth harps, take a look into Kians collection of Jaw harps and try to find out more about the magical influence a mouth harp can have on someones live. Further Kian talks about his song „Street Indigenous“, that was written in memory of the graffiti culture and its heroes. In the interview you also hear songs from the album "Miluju Tě". The interview was recorded in German language.

    Part 1: "Minnelied" from the album "Miluju Tě"

    Part 2: "Street Indigenous" from the album "Miluju Tě"

    To listen to Part 3 – 5 please visit our German blog post.

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