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Congress of the International Jews Harp Society

  • Vargan, Khomus, and Kubyz – the Russian jaw harp landscape is in motion

    Russia is a country with a handful of jaw harp traditions: in Sakha/Yakutia, in the Altai, and in Tuva the Khomus (or Komus) is played; in Bashkortostan the Kubyz is known, and in Western Russia and in the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg one can hear the name Vargan. The different terms already indicate diverse cultural links of the instrument. Since the 2000s more and more people remember these instruments again after the mouth harps had been forgotten for many decades. Now several hundreds of people in Russia are extensively engaged with this instrument, and it might be thousands who at least once held a Vargan, Khomus, or Kubyz in their hand. Furthermore there are many mouth harp artisans who produce excellent instruments. These are reasons enough to have a more intensive look at the Russian scene.

    The Vargan in West Russia

    Russian Vargan Jaw Harps at DAN MOIIn Russia the jaw harp has largely been associated with Siberia until recently. The Yakuts are known throughout Russia by their virtuosic jaw harp technique. But also in Central and Northwest Russia many mouth harps once were circulating. Until now, very little is known about the history of the jaw harp in the West of this huge country. In the Russian Empire mouth harps were produced and even exported. At excavation sites archaeologists found jaw harps which date back to the 9th century. Michael Wright created an impressive map on which there are several even earlier sites recorded. A map by Aksenty Beskrovny also points to specific sites of find in the West of Russia, in Ukraine, and in Belarus. But in the 19th century the Vargan passed out of mind, just like in many other parts of Europe. The scene of people who are rediscovering this instrument is steadily growing bigger. With Olga Prass, Irina Bogatyrev, Natalia Ducheva, Aksenty Beskrovny, or Vladimir Markov just a few of the amazing musicians are mentioned.

     

    The Kubyz in Bashkortostan

    Bashkirian Jaw Harp Pistol by Robert ZagretdinovBashkirian Jaw Harp Pistol by Robert Zagretdinov

    In Bashkortostan, the jaw harp together with the flute Kuraj (or Quray) belong to the traditional musical instruments of the country. There are Kubyz classes at music schools, and there are regular contests which are entered by hundreds of Kubyz players. After the Kubyz had been close on passing out of mind in the Soviet Union and only been played by a very few musicians, the instrument has gained again a pretty good reputation within the Bashkir society by now. Today the Kubyz is predominantly played on stage, but in the past this jaw harp used to be an instrument used by Shamans during ceremonies. Mindigafur Zainetdinov is one of the nationwide most known specialists.

     

    The Vargan in the Altai Mountains

    Vargan Mouth Harps from the Russian AltaiIn the Altai Mountains the legend of the bear jaw harp is known. It tells the story of a hunter who, while hunting, observes a bear plucking the splint of a larch which was split by a lightning. The wood of the larch was dry, and the corpus of the tree had a good resonance. The hunter enjoyed the sound which was produced by the bear with the split wood. He did not just let the bear live, he even made a mouth harp for himself. Since then mouth harps are made in the Altai.

    Playing the mouth harp has a long tradition among many Turkic peoples of Central Asia and therefore in the Altai Mountains as well. Just as in Sakha/Yakutia the jaw harp is an instrument for women. They are said to have played the mouth harp when milking for example, for the cow to produce more milk. One can recognize the spatial proximity of Sakha and the Altai (and also Tuva) when hearing and seeing the jaw harp being played. While the player moves only the forefinger to pluck the jaw harp in older Altai style, the whole hand circles dance-like when playing in the classic style. Similar to the technique in Sakha and Tuva, the musicians combine the sound of the mouth harp with vocal sounds.

     

    The Khomus in Sakha/Yakutia

    Khomus Mouth Harps from Yakutia at DAN MOIThe jaw harp music from Sakha/Yakutia is an important reference for musicians from all over the world today. The downright magical sounds of the Yakutian jaw harp music combine a precise playing technique with elaborate movements and the imitation of natural sounds such as the neigh of horses or the bickering rain drops. The specialty in Sakha is that the voice is purposely applied during the mouth harp playing. The Yakuts master this technique to perfection.

    The jaw harp Khomus is the national instrument of Sakha, and not least because of that it is widely supported. A mouth harp museum in Yakutsk, numerous concerts and programs spread the mouth harp playing. One of the nationwide most known groups is Ayarkhaan. But there are many virtuosic, some of them very young, players in Sakha. They can be heard at regional contests.

     

    The Khomus in Tuva

    The region of Tuva is primarily known for its overtone singers. But the jaw harp is also played there. Overtone singing and jaw harp sounds are merged with each other. That way a unique style is created.

    A Tuva legend tells how the mouth harp became a symbol for the love of two people: Once upon a time a smith and a girl fell in love with each other. But the girl was forced by her father to marry another man for his money. The smith suffered from this separation to the point that he made a Khomus and kept constantly playing it. He even stopped eating and drinking. He only played the jaw harp to forget his sadness. However, in his grief he threw himself down a cliff one day. When the girl heard this she followed him to death. The only remaining thing of the two was the jaw harp which was made by the smith with his broken heart.

    The Russian jaw harp scene is in motion. And this may be accentuated by the current intention to host the congress of the International Jew’s Harp Society 2017 in Moscow. For the one who wants to read more about the history of the Russian jaw harp and who can read in the Russian language, we suggest to have a look at an article by the Muscovite jaw harp expert and musician Aksenty Beskrovny.

    There is a selection of CDs for listening offered by the DAN MOI shop: Vargan-CD and Khomus-CD´s

  • Sustainability all along the line: The Ancient trance Festival 2016 backs responsible awareness of sound, environment and man.

    Ancient Trance Festival 2016

    The Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha started off as a small compact moment of concert for jaw harp music more than ten years ago. Just after the very first festivals the crowd was signalizing that they enjoyed the universe of transcendental live music, of resource-aware partying, and of join-in activities, created by the Ancient Trance team. During the first weekend in August 2014 more than 4000 people were drawn to Taucha.

    Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    How does the team of organizers look at the Ancient Trance Festival? Corinna Klinke belongs to the communication group of the festival team and provides an insight into the structures, the self-conception, and the vision of the future of Europe’s biggest mouth harp festival. For the DAN MOI blog Helen Hahmann talked to her.

    Helen Hahmann (HH): After the very successful Ancient Trance Festival in 2014 which also hosted the congress of the International Jews Harp Society, many people had probably marked the date in August 2015 as definitely not to be missed. But then you announced that you would pause for a year and not organize a next festival until 2016. Why did you do that?

    Corinna Klinke (CK): Even in the years before we liked to take a step back now and then. The festival grounds for example used to be larger a few years ago. There was another stage in the area which today is reserved for camping. After that, some of our team said that the festival was a bit too big, and so we decided to get smaller again and to put up a stage less in the following year. For us and the festival it is an important point to look what we are capable of. This is a sustainable treatment of and within the team – to keep in mind that the festival does not burn out our people. In the end we all do that voluntarily. In 2015 many team members questioned where to get the energy from to be able to cope with all the work. And then it became clear that we would need a break and pause for a year just to work on the mission and vision of the festival. What do we actually want and how can we realize this? One important issue at it was the appreciation of the work – not in a financial sense, but in the sense of how can we say thank you to the people managing all this. How can we grow together as a team for the festival to grow into a long-term project?

    HH: Who are the people organizing the festival?

    CK: Outsiders may easily get the impression that there are “hippies” behind those people, wearing dreadlocks and colorful rags. And of course, they are. But there are also other people being part of it who have organized similar events for different musical genres, and who just enjoy discovering something new. We are united by the kind of music, the virtuosity, and of course the aspect ‘mouth harp’. Besides, I for example like to be surprised by the music and groups I did not know before. So there is a varied mixture of people, and therefore their interests are quite diverse. This is the reason why we also used the past year to find a way of communication which satisfies everybody, which means consensus instead of content. We have organized ourselves in a structure called sociocracy. Different areas are divided into groups or circles which are specialized in certain tasks. When these groups meet there is a so called “check in” and “check out” providing people with the chance to “arrive”: some come from work, others from a world trip or from dinner with the family. That means each member of the group gets their own space. Furthermore there is a moderator who makes sure that each person gets the chance to speak. Or when somebody talks for too long or keeps repeating themselves, the moderator sets a frame or limit for the contribution.

    HH: How did you become part of the Ancient Trance Festival?

    CK: I have taken part since 2010. Back then I read an announcement on the bill-board saying that people were wanted. I met the team and pretty soon became part of it. Then for a few years I coordinated the press which I did because I had studied communication and media science in Leipzig. But after a while I found it monotonous, plus I had my first baby and that was the reason why I worked in the office. I liked it a lot, but it was also exhausting. Then in 2014 I joined in the artist support.

    HH: How has the program of the Ancient Trance Festival changed? Any alterations compared to 2014?

    CK: There will be many world music bands who have never played before at the Ancient Trance, but a few known bands will also participate in the festival, such as the Airtists around the Hungarian musician Aron Szilágyi. Especially with the jaw harp virtuosos there are of course always similar artists in different lineups, for example multi-instrumentalist and jaw harp player Nadishana from Russia. In 2016 he will be playing in a duo together with Dima Gorelik from Israel. We are also thinking about finding a main theme for the festival in the future, such as a musical theme for example or topics like sustainability or intercultural understanding. But these thoughts are still in process.

    HH: What are your visions about your engagement with the festival? What is motivating you? What do you hope to induce with this festival?

    CK: Well, I am motivated by the teamwork. Back then when I became part of that structure, I had some kind of aha moment: it is possible to communicate that way. Last year many were struck by the sociocracy and became interested. For example I am very impressed by the consensus decision: when we take a vote on something, we try not to decide by majority, but to attain a commonly agreed resolution.

    The Ancient Trance is not a festival going on until 3 am or even longer. At 1 am at the latest the stages are closing. But the nice thing is that afterwards there are people all over the place sitting in the meadow and playing music together, starting small sessions. The guests themselves playing music is maybe something not quite so common for festivals. At the Ancient Trance you can meet people, be it at a concert, playing music, doing the laughter yoga in the early morning hours, or at the lake enjoying the atmosphere. I think, many people are drawn by the otherness and uniqueness of the festival, and become interested in participating themselves. Many of our team were initially guests and then were up for joining in. That is what is motivating us!

    HH: What are your wishes for the future of the festival?

    CK: I wish that the Ancient Trance is growing in a “healthy way”. Many festivals were hyped and then quickly became something very big, which destroyed some of the charm of those festivals. I would not like at all to see this happening to the Ancient Trance. I rather wish that it will be growing with its resources and energies in a healthy way. Part of it will be, not to let it become a routine what we are doing, but to give space for spontaneous acting to keep the festival alive and open-minded. Open-minded in a sense of noticing what is happening around us, how society is changing, and how our guests are changing, who are the new guests and what are their wishes?

    The Ancient Trance Festival will take place from August 12th to 14th 2016. You can listen to the interview with Corinna Klinke on freie-radios.net: https://www.freie-radios.net/76226

    Ancient Trance Festival 2016

     

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