The DAN MOI Jaw Harp Blog ♫

In our Blog we write about Jew´s Harps and other musical instruments, about ourselves and about events and artists connected with us or our instruments.

  • The heartbeat of the orchestra: The frame drum Riq

    Through many centuries, the Riq (or Riqq) has been the most important percussion instrument in countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Until 70 years ago, without the Riq Arabic arts music was simply unthinkable. Although the frame drum is not bigger than a plate, it is a highly esteemed instrument in classic Arabic music, due to its rich sounds and diverse sound colours, but also due to its demanding playing techniques that challenge the player. Today, in most ensembles the Riq has been replaced by the Darbuka, and, as a consequence, has eventually lost its significance. Nowadays, there are only a few musicians around that have mastered playing the Riq.

    Adel Shams del Din is regarded as the most talented contemporary master of the Riq. He develops the virtuoso classic Riq playing technique further – with a style full of nuances as well as seemingly never-ending and continuously surprising rhythmic twists. Born in Alexandria, del Din has been living in Paris for almost 40 years and focuses on teaching his art, giving concerts with the Al-Kindi ensemble, and recording CDs. In 2012, another important Riq player, Michel Merhej Baklouk, from Lebanon published his textbook "Classical Riqq Technique", where he provides insights in his playing technique. Furthermore, inspiring Riq rhythms are to be found in the recordings of Umm Kulthum. For more than 40 years, the Riq player Ibrahim Afifi led the rhythm group of the orchestra from Umm Kulthum and ranks as one of the most influential Riq players. The Riq was the heartbeat of traditional Arabic orchestras. It controlled tempo and intensity of the music. Today, many percussion masters play the Darbuka as accomplished as the Riq.

    The Riq is a tambourine. Traditonally, it is made out of a wooden frame with fish skin. The wooden frame has 5 bells, which come in pairs of twos. Those elaborately finished instruments have ornaments of little mosaics made of pearls, bone and horn or coloured wood.

    The meaning of the Arabic word Riq translates as skin or parchment. It alludes to the thin drum skin which is partly responsible for the varied sounds. Precise, explosive beats are just as possible as subtle, tender and fragile sounds. The bells are a vivid element of the frame drum and contribute to an agile and powerful sound. The new Riqs are covered with synthetic material that is more robust than natural material. The drum skin of higher quality instruments can also be tuned.

    The Riqs from DAN MOI were made in a Turkish facility that is committed to highest quality. It comes in two versions: the Riq Premium with bells of smooth brass and the Riq Pro with wrought brass bells that increase its sound variability. The frame made of mahogany is covered with a synthetic skin that provides excellent sound properties, and needless to say: those instruments are tunable.

    The Riq is often held vertically with both hands on the lower side. The drum skin points away from the player's body. The thumbs hold the frame and the fingers are used to play. One bell is right in the middle of both hands. When the skin is being hit and the instrument is rhythmically moved or shaken the bells begin to make a sound. If the bells are intended to make only a few sounds the Riq is tilted a bit. If the player has trouble to hold the Riq it can also be placed in the lap, so the arms relieved.

    Today, the Riq is also a popular percussion instrument in other parts of the world. Young percussionists use the Riq in their music to have another sound colour in their portfolio. This is true for players like Yshai Afterman, David Kuckhermann, or Glen Valez.

  • Mouth Harp Festivals - Calendar 2020

    24-26 January Klangen før fela 2020, NO
    1-2 February Parmupillifestival, EST
    8-10 May Gjovik Music Week, NO – canceled
    May La Fete de la Guimbarde, FR (tbc)
    25-27 June North American Jaw Harp Festival, USA
    Juny Marranzano World Fest, I (tbc)
    24-25 July Le Reve de l´Aborigene, FR
    6-9 August Ancient Trance Festival, D
    August Krutushka Festival, RU (tbc)
    September Norwegian Jew´s Harp Festival, NO (tbc)
    December Global Vibes Festival, HU (tbc)

    The Mouth Harp Festival Calendar 2020 will be updated regularly.

    January 2020

    24.-26. January Klangen før fela 2020, NO

    Klangen før fela takes place in Oslo. You´ll find workshops for beginners and advanced mouth harp (munnharpe) players teached by Tom Willy Rustad and Bernhard Folkestad et al. Further more the festival offers workshops in joik and kveding singing, playing the Bukkehorn, the seljefløyte flute and the zither langeleik. You´ll also meet the jaw harp blacksmith Simen Roheim Iversen. For more information and registration please visite the festivals website Klangen før fela.

    February 2020

    1.-2. February Parmupillifestival, EST

    Parmupilli is the estonian word for jaw harp. At the Parmupillifestival in Tallin you have the chance to meet up with Estonian jaw harp players like Cätlin Mägi, Juhan Suits, Katariin Raska and blacksmith Priit Moppel. The festival offers lectures, workshops, concerts and an exhibition of estonian mouth harps. More information are published on the Facebookpage of the Parmupillifestival.


    June 2020

    25.-27. June North American Jaw Harp Festival, USA

    The North American Jaw Harp Festival 2020 will be held in Cottage Grove, Oregon just like last year. More detailed information will be announces during the year on the festivals facebook-page.

  • 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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