Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • 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:ören/

  • A Breath of Time: In the Czech Republic Brumlista arouses the interest for the mouth harp

    Petr Jasinčuk aka Brumlista astonished many people. In a video, he plays the mouth harp in the deep winter´s cold, his body dipped up to his neck into the water of a lake. Around him ice and snow-covered birches. He wears a hat and sunglasses for this bone-chilling bath. Surrounded by snow-capped ice he plays his mouth harp, the brumle or brumla as the instrument is called in Czech language. Petr is not only famous for his extreme water sport endeavours, he is also known for being a progressive force in the Czech mouth harp community and a fine musician. Under the pseudonym Brumlista, he developed a unique playing style, mixing singing and beatbox elements with mouth harp sounds. In September 2019, Petr had a phone interview with Helen from Dan Moi, where he talks about his motivation to dedicate his time so devotedly to the mouth harp for more than eight years.

    I´m practicing the Wim Hof Method. It is a hardening and breathing technique. In wintertime, I go to the frozen lake, break a hole into the ice and take a bath for some minutes. In the video you see me there playing my mouth harp. It was a difficult and funny moment at the same time.” The hat he is wearing is typical for this unusual training. Only after many years of practice, one also puts the head under water. There are many more, but less extreme videos of Petr on the internet, where he is playing brumla in the nature. He says, nature is the better place to play the jaw harp rather than an urban environment. Petr lives near Prague. At home he usually plays without microphone and amplifier. He looks for places with a nice echo, e.g. in the hallway of his house or in a church.

    Up on stage Petr uses a microphone. The feeling of playing with an amplified mouth harp sound is a completely different one. Petr states: “You can play with more details and you can express more overtones. Also the breathing can be used more precisely, which enables you to articulate clearly.“ One of this energetic performances is captured on Brumlista‘s YouTube channel. It is showing Petr playing a solo concert at the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha. This clip also features a duet with double flute and mouth harp virtuoso Steev Kindwald. Steev has had an influence on the music of Brumlista and equally inspired him as musicians like Jonny Cope and Nadishana, Vladimir Markov and Aron Szilágyi.

    Petr’s first encounter with a mouth harp took place in a music store. A fairly simple, cheap instrument attracted his attention. In the beginning, Petr thought it was only a toy, but it drew his curiosity. This was the starting point of his interest for jaw harps: “I watched endless YouTube videos and read websites about mouth harps. That way I taught myself to play. I found my ‘inner teacherʼ that has been guiding me until today and helps me to increase my playing skills. I would describe it as a state of mind, an extended inner space, where I can develop my abilities. This ‘inner teacherʼ is also helping me to teach my students. I try to resonate with them through my senses and my consciousness, so I can convey my playing techniques.

    Petr holds brumle-workshops for beginners and for advanced players and he organises meetings of the Czech mouth harp community that he founded in 2012. The group communicates their activities and events on Facebook and on the website “I want to re-popularise the brumle in Czech Republic as an old, spiritual tool”, Petr says. “I´m also making efforts to spread the knowledge about the instrument in other countries." The community in the Czech Republic is growing slowly, but constantly. By now, there are about 20 active jaw harp players. About 200 people are less active, but take interest in the mouth harp. The meetings, concerts and workshops of the Czech brumle community take place in Prague, because it is rather difficult to convince the city dwellers to come to the countryside, comments Petr.

    Brumlista at the Ancient Trance Festival


    The Czech word brumle or brumla derives most likely from the German term „Brummeisen“. Brumlista is the person who plays the mouth harp and brumlar is the Czech term for jaw harp blacksmith. So far, we know only a few details about the history of the mouth harp in the Czech Republic. Petr mentions a mouth harp from the 14th century that was found in Rokštejnská. “There was a kind of tradition in Moravia. There were some mouth harp players and the instrument is referred to in some folk songs.” Regina Plate reports in her cultural history of the mouth harp (1992) about a musician from Bohemia called Kunert, who was born in Kounice and in the first half of the 19th century played many concerts in several German and Austrian cities. Young brumle players like Brumlista or Ivo Charitonov give new life to the mouth harps in the Czech Republic. They reach out to folk music enthusiasts and lovers of spiritual sounds. Petr also plays in a South-East European fusion and trance band called “Nigunatica”.

    With the mouth harp I connect to my inner soul”, describes Petr, when he is asked what he finds so special about the brumle. “You can learn the instrument relatively easy. Almost everyone can play it after some time. Compared to a violin, the mouth harp is much easier to learn. Furthermore, it is not only about music. The mouth harp is a spiritual tool. Music therapists use the brumle because its sound can help to destroy blockades and to set free blocked energy.

    Mouth harps are also made in the Czech Republic. Petr plays the instrument of the Hungarian mouth harp maker Zoltan Szilágyi and those from the Czech instrument maker Šešulka: “These mouth harps are very special. They are adaptations of the legendary Austrian Jofen mouth harps, which are not built there anymore. I´m working with Šešulka to develop and improve the instruments.

    Petr came across the mouth harp during a moving time in his life. After having worked many years in the IT sector, he quit his job and began to work in a primary school. Today, he dreams of becoming a professional mouth harp player and teacher. His dream would come true if he could make a living from the mouth harp one day. It seems in recent years he got closer to that dream. Besides many performances at festivals and concerts, he travelled to Yakutia in 2019 to celebrate the international Khomus-Day on 30 November together with Yakutian mouth harp players. Just in time he released his first album: Breath of Time

  • 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.

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