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  • Queen of the flutes: the bass flute Fujara

    During the opening celebrations of the cultural centre of the Slovakian town of Detva, which was conducted by the president of the parliament (and the later president) of Slovakia, Ivan Gašparovič, he gave a memorable present at the reception of his guests. He accepted the invitation of the host to play a piece on the Fujara that calls the very region its home. Without a moment of hesitation, Gašparovič began to play a piece on the bass flute that has the height of a man. No other gesture could have conveyed to the town of Detva that Gašparovič is connected to Slovakian culture. 

    Photo by Tibor Szabo.

    Detva is located at the bottom of a valley near the West Carpathians in Central Slovakia. Since the 1960’s, the small town is well-known as a centre of vivid Slovakian folklore. Detva is also the cradle of the shepherd’s flute Fujara. In the memory of the Slovakians, the Fujara has accompanied the concept of national sovereignty and independency for more than 300 years. With the founding of Slovakia in 1992, the Fujara became not only a cultural, but also a national symbol. Ivan Gašparovič himself was often giving one of these extravagant instruments as a gift to his state visitors. The Fujara can be seen in this field of tension between national roots, cultural adaptability, and modern adaption.

    It is the distinctive size, the form and the sound that make the Fujara something special among the European flutes: its sound is deep, smooth and organic. At the same time, it also sounds agile, strange and futuristic, which is due to the dazzling high overtones up to 4 octaves. The melodies originate by skillfully combining hand movements with overblowing the basic tones. That’s how those special sounds come to life. They roar, flow, gently scream, call out, and time and again find rest in murmuring sound colours.

    Instrument of Outlaws and Shepards

    Among the Slovakian Fujara masters there are names like Pavol Smutný, Tibor Kobliček, Juraj Kubinec and Dušan Holík. They know how to play the traditional way. The Fujara music is based on a handed-down repertoire of shepherd’s and bandit’s songs. Yes, bandits and thugs were also companions of the Fujara. As the history of Central Slovakia goes, they were supposedly living on the meadows and in the woods, practically close neighbours of the region’s shepherds. When shepherding the herd, the shepherds were playing various flutes. Two of them are well-known: the little Koncovka and the big Fujara. The Koncovka is sometimes called the little sister of the Fujara. Its size is approx. 50 cm and it does not have any grip holes. The tones are merely generated by overblowing and opening as well as closing of the lower opening of the flute. The bigger flute, the Fujara, was considered as the instrument of the herd leader and highest-ranking shepherd. The smaller Koncovka was rather played by his assistants. That is also one of the reasons the Fujara is being called the “queen of the Slovakian music instruments”.

    The above-mentioned close vicinity of shepherds and social outsiders is reflected in the portfolio of the Slovakian songs: those songs do not merely tell about the life with nature and an emphasis on humane and sincere interconnections. Those are also improvised pieces that reconstruct the flow of the river or the murmuring of the trees. The disenfranchised people that lived outside of the villages incorporated the call for justice and freedom against occupation and suppression into their songs. The robbers and the bandits of the 17th century are also the ones that are considered as fighting for Slovakian independency. Their most well-known representative was the robber Juraj Jánošík who today is regarded as a national hero.

    Fujara Playing Technique

    The handed-down songs for the Fujara combine instrumental play and singing. That’s why the Fujara players have been good singers, too. A performance usually begins with the signature motif, a signal that is called rozfuk. The whole range of tones is played from the highest until the lowest tone of the instrument. Traditionally, on the Fujara a 12-tone, Mixolydian scale is being played. After the opening tune rozfuk follows the first strophe, which is freely played with rich improvisations. Right after the Fujara player stops playing, he starts singing the strophe, to present the text to the listener. The master Ladislav Libica gives an example of such traditional performance in the recording of the tune “Kade idem, vsade trniem”, „Wherever I go, I tremble“: 

    The size of the Fujara is impressive. Its tube is up to 200 cm long. It is rarely shorter than 140 cm. The player holds the instrument vertically in front of the body. Due to its length, the Fujara is played with a mouthpiece that is connected to the body of the instrument and thus makes it easier to play. The blowing technique is similar to the one of the South American Moseño flute. That is why the Fujara (same as the Moseño) is relatively easy to play. Equally to the recorder the tone is generated by a so-called windway. The player blows air through the pipe and a tone emerges instantly. The challenge of playing the Fujara well lies in applying the correct grip and breathing technique.

    The Fujaras have three grip holes at the front and they are located at the lower third of the instrument. The player often needs to stretch his or her arms to reach the grip holes. The middle finger of the left hand covers the most upper grip hole. The right hand is being led to the lower tone holes. The thump of the right hand covers the middle grip hole and the middle finger the lower tone hole. In general, the Fujara does not have a grip hole for the thump at the back of the pipe. A video shows the fingers of the highly recognized Fujara master Dušan Holík at work:

    Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the origins of the Fujara. There is certainty that the making of those instruments can be dated back to the 17th and 18th century. Possibly, other music instruments of the art music sector played a role in its evolution. The bassoon and the Baroque bass recorder may have provided inspiration for making the Fujara. 

    The Fujara in the 21st Century

    Any Fujara is unique and something special. The instrument is still being hand-made. That is why every single one of them follows an individual aesthetic and tonal concept. Over the years, responding to demand the construction method was continuously adapted to the needs of the musicians. Today’s instruments meet the current needs as they are easily transportable, perfectly tuned and therefore combinable with other instruments. The distance of the grip holes, too, is slightly more convenient if compared to older instruments.

    The length of DAN MOI Fujaras are 150 cm or 170 cm and they are made of elder-wood. They have a splendid production quality, are well-tuned, and carefully treated to last for a long time. The flutes are tuned to the 4 basic tones A2, B(H)2, C#3 and D3 or G2, A2 B(H)2 and C3. The newly developed Fujara Integral, with which you can improvise wonderfully, can be played more intuitively. The range can be extended by many tones of the overtone series. When blowing the breathing air into the instrument with a varying intensity more tones of the overtone range can be produced by applying the “overblowing” technique. The Fujaras of DAN MOI are made by a Slovakian instrument maker who has his studio in Czechia. The Fujaras have a delicate ornament in the upper part of the flute. The surface of the flute is treated with linseed oil. They also bear a valve by which condensation water emerging during playing can be discharged.

    Today, there are more Fujara players than ever, not only in Slovakia, but also in other countries of Europe and the American continent. Meanwhile they are rarely shepherds, but work e.g. as doctors, teachers, electricians or lawyers. New compositions for the melancholic bass flute emerge, and more and more people become interested in the instrument. For many years, musicians from jazz or world music have discovered the Fujara and have been bringing her into play in various settings. Musicians as Marco Trochelmann, Bernhard Mikuskovics or Max Brumberg have made the Fujara popular beyond national borders. Nowadays, the Fujara with its touchingly deep and smooth sound is used for therapeutic purposes or for meditation.

    In Slovakia itself awareness for the Fujara has been significantly raised with the won independence in 1993. After the founding of the Folklore Festival and with instrument research in the 1960’s a first increase was already perceivable, in 1975 a Fujara competition for players and instrument makers followed. The latter can be seen as the starting point for the revival of the instrument and its repertoire. The Fujara has become known throughout Slovakia, though its traditional centre is still located in the region of Podpol’anie, Central Slovakia.

  • The Moseño Flute: A Rarity from the Andes

    The Moseño flute is a very special, spherical instrument. Flute players appreciate the instrument for its warm, light sound that is able to spread genuine tranquility. That’s why the Moseño is suitable for meditations – whether for oneself or for others. The Moseño is easy to learn: with its six grip holes and an easy to use mouth piece it doesn’t require practising for years. The Argentinean musician Pablo Salcedo from the group Markama is a passionate Moseño player. He is fascinated by its smooth, humming tone. 

    Moseno Bamboo Flute

    What is particular about the Moseño is a blowing pipe, which is placed on the sound tube. This mechanism, which only serves to transport the breathing air from the player to the other end of the flute originates from the traditional Moseños as they are used in Bolivia. There, Moseños can reach a length of more than 2 meters. Those sound particularly deep and airy. The attached air pipe is there to make it easier for the player to reach the grip holes. Otherwise, they would be too far away from the mouth piece. That’s why the Moseño is being held like a transverseflute. Several spellings are common for the instrument: Moxeño, Mohoceño, Moceño.

    The Moseño in Bolivia

    In Bolivia, the Moseño is being played outdoors at public festivities. “Usually, not only one instrument is being heard. The Moseño is being played in groups of 10, 20 or more instruments. There are four different sizes: the biggest is called Salliwa, the others are named as follows (in a descending order): Moseños Eraso, Licu, and Chili”, writes Pablo Salcedo in an email to DAN MOI. Mainly, men are playing on the Moseño. The Bolivian province of Inquisivi is famous as its place of origin and it’s located about 5 hours by car in the East of Bolivia’s capital La Paz. There, every year the Mohoseñadas take place. “Traditionally, Moseños will be accompanied by Huancara drums and an Imilla. The Imilla is a high oboe (similar to a Chirimia) with a screeching sound”, Pablo explains. Young, unmarried people are dancing on the streets to the music of the Moseños.

    The Mohoseñada (also known as Moseñada) is a ritual dance of the Aymara culture, which is being performed during the rainy season, so usually in February. It is dedicated to the youth and fertility of the earth. When the potato plants bloom in lilac and white the Mohoseñada is being danced, too, as a token of gratuity to the Pachamama, mother earth. The dancers wear strong, distinctive colours: red or green skirts and yellow or red blouses. Their high-spirited dance that involves many moves is a symbol for the peak and power of youth. Today, the dance and instrument have become quite popular and are cultivated in many places in the region around La Paz. In February 2011, the Mohoseñada was officially recognized by being declared an Immaterial Cultural Heritage of La Paz.

    Music of the Andes, meditation and insider tip for flute experts

    Pablo Salcedo who plays with the Latin folk band Markamasince 1994 describes the sound of the Moseño as curative and full of compassion and love. The Moseño is an instrument with an incredible personality. “The Moseño’s power of expression is remarkable, when played for meditation. The sound does not only captivate the auditory, but the flute player, too. That’s truly magic.” As a matter of fact, the Moseño is being used for relaxation music. The warm sound is taken as background music for Yoga exercises or Reiki and is highly appreciated for meditation as well.

    For friends of the Latin American flute music, the Moseño is a very special rarity. It is an eye-catcher. Its warm sound triggers excitement. With the instrument all known melodies from the Latin American folklore can be played. Solemn, slow songs unfold their charm the same as faster songs from the repertoire of the Andes music. The Argentinean flute expert Uña Ramos, too, loved to play the Moseño. The Chilean music group Illapu uses the Moseño in some of their songs. In particular, the songs “Labradores” and “Tristeza Incaica” have become popular. Both of them emphasize the melancholic sound colour of the Moseño. They serve as a reminder that the Moseño is also being played at funerals in the Bolivian Andes.

    Yet the Moseño is an insider tip among flute fans. “It’s pretty difficult to get an instrument of good quality”, writes the flute player and founder of the World Flutes Festival Pablo Salcedo. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is rather seldom used by music bands that don’t have a direct connection to the Latin American folklore. But everything is possible with it. The Brazilian Duo Portal sketches a mysterious acoustic landscape with the Moseño.

    The Moseño is diatonically tuned and held like a transverse flute. Sometimes flute players put long instruments on their shoulders. To elicit a sound, one blows into the round opening at the air pipe. The stream of air is being transported through the pipe to the upper end of the flute. There the air hits a so-called windway that makes the flute sound emerge. In terms of sound creation, the Moseño works exactly like a recorder. The tone can be varied by blowing with different pressure into the air channel. The Moseño resembles the Slovakian Fujara. This very long shepherd’s pipe works also with an attached air pipe. However, the Fujara is being held vertically.

    Perhaps, in the Western world the Moseño is also the instrument of celebrated loneliness and longing. Particularly, the big flutes with a deep sound found their way out of the Bolivian mountains into the big cities of the world. Pablo Salcedo describes their magic effect by saying: “One can play the Moseño fabulously by oneself, thereby creating a moment of meditation. It reflects the spiritual relationship between human, nature and the infinity of the mountains.”

    The Moseños you find in the DAN MOI shop are manifectured by a master instrument maker from Portugal, who learned to build Moseños in South America. Our Moseños are made from European bamboo, that is prepared for the local climate conditions. The construction process of one instrument takes a year. Build with care, they have an excellent quality.

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