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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • "Tran Quang Hai, where does the term "Dan Moi" originate?"

    Tran Quang Hai plays Dan Moi Jew's Harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014Over many years, several thousand people participated in the workshops and presentations of the overtone specialist Tran Quang Hai. Tran Quang Hai has been involved for over 45 years in promoting worldwide awareness of the techniques of overtone singing and jew's harp and spoon playing. The ethnomusicologist from Paris, now 70 years old, has become known primarily as a teacher and musician. Tran Quang Hai was born in South Vietnam.  He studied at the Conservatory of Ho Chi Minh City before moving to Paris in 1961 to study music.

    "I became acquainted with the jew's harp not in Vietnam but in France. That was in 1960. I learnt how to play the jew's harp from John Wright. Six years later, I held my first Vietnamese dan moi in my hand. I received it as a gift, and at first I really didn't know exactly what I was supposed to do with it. I learnt the instrument step by step." As a scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, Tran Quang Hai came across the jew's harp collection at the Museum of Man (Musée de l'Homme). Even at that time, the collection consisted of over 300 different examples of jew's harps from around the world. One of these was the dan moi from North Vietnam. With the aid of sound recordings, Tran Quang Hai became increasingly familiar with the jew's harp, learnt songs and mimicked techniques, until he finally began to compose original pieces for the jew's harp. He has composed over 20 works for the jew's harp.

    Tran Quang Hai plays Dan Moi Jew's Harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014 Tran Quang Hai plays Dan Moi Jew's Harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    Tran Quang Hai then sought out jew's harps even in Vietnam, his birth country. The instrument was not particularly widespread in the 1960s, and in North Vietnam it was played only by the Hmong. The Hmong mainly play melodies on the rab ncas, as the jew's harp is called locally. Rab ncas, according to Tran Quang Hai, is a rather complicated word in the Hmong language. As he proceeded with the search for the Vietnamese jew's harp, it immediately became clear to him that he needed a term that could also be easily pronounced outside of Vietnam. So, without hesitation he gave the jew's harp the now popular name "Đàn môi". "Dan means instrument, and moi means lips, therefore, the instrument that you press against your lips. So the name 'dan moi' comes from me", Tran Quang Hai states, not without pride.

    To his own jew's harp playing style, Tran Quang Hai added most notably a rhythmic pattern. To the western audiences for whom he now primarily played, the sound became more appealing. "When I play the jew's harp, I quickly slip into the role of a researcher. For me, the traditional techniques are not enough. I listen to other jew's harp players and incorporate some elements into my own playing, for example, from the Génggong of Bali, the Karinding from Java, the Kubing from the Philippines or the Morchang in India." With that being said, Tran Quang Hai considers himself first and foremost as a creative developer of new approaches and techniques for jew's harp playing. Typically, when playing faster, more rhythmic passages, he uses his thumb to pluck the tongue of the jew's harp. This allows him to produce a totally unique sound, almost like a fingerprint, that can be combined with a variety of different music styles. Tran Quang Hai is so forceful a soloist that his "beats" enable even a hip hopper to dance to them.

    It is a sign of friendship when one can reach his/her counterpart through a jew's harp. Tran Quang Hai prizes the little instrument because it can go with him everywhere in his pants pocket or backpack. He brings it out of his pocket at every possible opportunity and plays for people who request it. It is a challenge but also a great joy when Tran Quang Hai can bring his sound to other jew's harp players. "They are the ones who hear every nuance that is played, and are eager to try the new techniques or sound effects for themselves. They are probably more perceptive listeners than most other people," says Tran Quang Hai enthusiastically. An opportunity to play in front of experts comes regularly at the International Jew's Harp Society (IJHS) conference. As a member of IJHS, he enriches the regular meetings through workshops, his own performances, and his substantial contributions as an ethnomusicologist and specialist in overtone instruments.

    Tran Quang Hai is being quite popular on many websites in the internet. He is also running several pages in English, French and Vietnamese where he writes and publish exciting video clips once in a while:

  • 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:

  • Goayandi opens the Boom Festival 2014 with a Jaw Harp

    Our friends of the French "natural Goa" band Goayandi did have the privilege to open this year's Boom Festival in Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal with several ten thousand guests.

    We know very well that it is not easy for a non-mainstream band to keep going and all bills paid. That's why we decided to support Goayandi with some musical instruments like jaw harps, shakers, maracas and other percussion from our store on a long-term base.

    By the way, Goayandi will play in a few days (Sept 6th) at the Tonnay Bon Festival in France. And here is the Link to Goayandis Facebook Fanpage.

    The photos are taken by Iza Viola. Find her here: https://www.facebook.com/IzaViolaPhotography

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