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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • "Simplicity sets my music free": The sublime Jew's harp meditations of the artist Wang Li

    Wang Li plays Lubu jew's harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    The New York Times wrote this about a concert given by the Chinese Jew's harp virtuoso Wang Li: "Wang Li educes futuristic sounds from the simplest of instruments. He plays all possible types of Jew's harps, positioned very close to the microphone, reverberating so that every movement, every resonance can be heard down to the very last detail. His pieces are fascinating, introverted with delicate movements of performed meditations. Sometimes the sharp clicks are reminiscent of electronic dance music, wrapped in ghostly harmonious melodies. Li´s music is deeply lonesome and charmingly soft."

    Performance at TED 2013

    Today Wang Li lives in Paris. He was born in the north-eastern Chinese city of Qingdao. During his time at school he learned how to play the bass guitar and had already come into contact for the first time with a Jew's harp. After he had graduated from school, he entered a French monastery. Spiritual elegance and the pursuit of an inner balance characterize his compositions right up to today. As a mouth organ and jew's harp player, he sees himself not as an artist primarily but rather as a type of tool: "I don't make the sounds, the universe calls them forth. When one creates a vibration then something changes in the structure and framework of our world. I can't see the universe but am located directly in it. Music and vibrations have an impact in the world." As a result, Wang Li is not over-concerned about the fuss surrounding him. He says "There is nothing special about me. I am always worried about the future, I am worried about the here-and-now, and I try and find a few warm consoling moments in the past."

    As his aim, Wang Li strives to achieve a higher level of consciousness. In music, also. One has arrived somewhere, he says, if one no longer just tries to play the instrument but rather is played by the instrument. "So far, unfortunately, the jew's harp has not become part of me. I hope that, one day, the jew's harp will play me. In my opinion, it is not a question of whether I play the jew's harp, but so far it is still a case of me trying to do something in order to produce good vibrations. But I am still so very limited in my abilities, and the jew's harp is a majorly important instrument because it can establish vibrations between you and the universe."

    Past, Present, Future

    Wang Li studied jazz at the Paris Conservatory. The opportunities which musical improvisation offered him cast a spell over him. The jew's harp has become his favorite instrument. He believes it to be a medium which allows people to establish a connection to things that are invisible. The Jew's harp accompanies Li in his search for resonance and freedom. He says it is simplicity that sets his music free. It opens a door for him to an inner world which takes him back to his childhood memories and which can become a place of silence and reflection. For that reason also, critics describe his music as sacred. A new album by Wang Li entitled "Past, Present, Future" was released in November 2014 on the Buda Musique label.

  • Immerse Yourself in the World of the Trümpi with Anton Bruhin

    Anton Bruhin with a Jew's Harp at Ancient Trance Festival 2014The Swiss Anton Bruhin is one of the most experimental musicians and experts of the jew's harps community. A person who thinks and rethinks the instrument for over 40 years in new, surprising contexts, combines it with technical discoveries and presents it in the context of the artistry of sound. The film "Trümpi - Anton Bruhin - The Jew's Harp Player" by the Swiss film maker Ivan Schumacher conveys an impression of the multifaceted ways in which Anton Bruhin understands the character of the jew's harps and interprets them. In Central Switzerland, the word Trümpi is often used for the jew's harp. In the year 1511, the musician and composer Sebastian Vierung referred to the instrument using the term "Trumpel" in his work "Musica getutscht und außgezogen". Anton Bruhin says, "The jew's harp immediately fascinated me - that was an inspiration." It was small, cost barely 2 Swiss Francs, and was greatly undervalued."

    Bruhin discovered the jew's harp at a time when the moog synthesizer and psychedelic music were popular. "At that time I realized that the jew's harp sounds like a synthesizer. In addition, the jew's harp is the only organic instrument other than the human voice where the sound is produced within the body. In spite of this, its sound is quite similar to the Moog. The jew's harp is a synthesizer. The rounded sounds can be produced directly without any circuits, without pushing buttons." The shape of the oral cavity and the tongue respectively determine the form of the voiced sounds, whose overtones appear in the sound of the jew's harp. These characteristics of the jew's harp still fascinate Anton Bruhin today.

    "I am from the Canton of Schwyz. From the outer region, between Lake Zürich and Lake Walen. As a child in this area, I never saw or heard a jew's harp. I would most certainly have remembered if a jew's harp had been played, since as an infant I was already crawling up to the musicians to see where the sound was coming out of the trumpet." At age 18, Anton Bruhin saw and heard his first jew's harp. This was in Zürich at the end of the 1960s. A street musician taught him how to play the instrument. Bruhin was quickly able produce a sound from the metal body, and the musician gave him a jew's harp as a farewell gift. "I am convinced, however, that at least since the Middle Ages jew's harps have been played throughout all of Europe. In Switzerland, archaeological digs have discovered jew's harps dating to the 13th Century. Even these are not the oldest ones," says Anton Bruhin. The instruments have been discovered in large quantities in the moats of castles, suggesting the possibility that they were ubiquitous in people's daily lives, available in every market.

    "The issue of the age of the jew's harp is interesting. As far as I know, the oldest jew's harp to have been excavated was made of Mongolian organic components and is more than 2,000 years old. The harp was discovered in permafrost. The first jew's harps were in fact made of bamboo or wood, in other words from material which normally decomposes." Interest in jew's harps fell off in the 19th Century, supplanted by the popularity of the harmonica, accordion and bandoneon. Like the jew's harp, these more sophisticated instruments utilized the principle of the suspended tongue. The quality of their sound was, however, better suited to the musical tastes of the age. They were louder and also better able to play distinct melodies.

    For a long time Anton Bruhin has challenged the supposed fact that jew's harps cannot easily play a melody that listeners can recognize. "I just wasn't able to play a real musical piece. So I focused more on the jew's harp's percussion and sound. It was not until the 1990s that I adopted the interactive playing method used by the Tyrolean and Bavarian jew's harp players, with three or more jew's harps used in alternation." In addition, the change to handmade jew's harps with better sound had a crucial impact in permitting Anton Bruhin to produce melodies on the instrument. The overtone melodies are now easier to comprehend, and today Bruhin plays the instrument no longer as a soloist but along with other musicians such as Max Lässer and the Überland Orchestra.

  • 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.

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