Jew's Harp Music

  • Nadishana: Whilst Playing the Jaw Harp I Imagine a Whole Orchestra

    Nadishana plays jaw harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2008

    The multi-instrumentalist Nadishana plays more than 200 instruments. Among those the jaw harp, he says, is one of his favourites. „You can play it everywhere, even in public spots, without causing too much of a stir. I often use the time for practicing, when I need to wait somewhere.“

    Nadishana grew up in a southern Siberian village and studied at University in Sankt Petersburg. He’s been living in Berlin for more than 10 years now, and is one of the favourite musicians as well as a regular performer at the Ancient Trance, the festival for jaw harp and World Music. In August 2016, Helen Hahmann met him at the 8th Ancient Trance in Taucha, near Leipzig, and had a chat with Nadishana at the castle yard, where he talks about his approach to music, his very individual style and his favourite jaw harps:


    I want to learn something about music in general

    Where I come from, the jaw harp is not really popular. 15 years ago, in Southern Siberia it was virtually non-existent. Also, the jaw harp was by far not as present in the Northern parts of Siberia, in Yakutia, as it is now. I believe the first time I heard those peculiar sounds was on vinyl records, back then in Russia.

    One could only borrow records in libraries as 10 years ago you couldn’t just get the music you took an interest in from the internet the same we do today.

    Anyway, I was excited by those recordings. I was wowed and just wanted to know what kind of instrument that is. So, I started reading books and visiting museums about music instruments. Until that point, I’ve never seen anybody in a live performance with a jaw harp. Three years later, when I started going to Uni a friend of mine purchased one in a second-hand store. He played it and let me try as well.

    I bought my first jaw harp in Kyzyl, Tuva. It was not really a good quality jaw harp and broke down easily. But I started practicing with it. Then, I got a jaw harp from the Altai region. Originally, I am a guitar player, and I am also into percussions and flute as well as several other instruments. For me, it’s not about playing that certain instrument. I rather want to learn something about music.

    Whilst playing the jaw harp I imagine a whole orchestra

    I don’t consider myself as a jaw harp player. I am a musician who explores music in all imaginable ways. But the jaw harp is an interesting instrument. Though it’s a simple one, it has got a lot of power, provides many possibilities, and so many strange sounds that can be generated. And it’s truly an ancient sound. As is the case with other overtone instruments, the flageolet tones can be accentuated.

    My style is a product of my previous experience that I made with music. I play drums and percussions and I apply those techniques and rhythms to the jaw harp. I also arrange the music. That is to say, I imagine an orchestra during my jaw harp play: now the violins start to play, and then the percussions chime in. Then again, the percussions are pausing and the whole orchestra is playing, or all but one instrument just stop. I think of alteration in speed, modulation of the melody etc. I arrange the music during playing the jaw harp the same way I would do for an orchestra.

    Naturally, I am inspired by other jaw harp techniques and other music, for instance the Indian art of jaw harp playing and actually Indian music in general. What is being achieved in India with the Morsing is just amazing. Or have a look at Norway: over there they have this fantastic tradition to play tunes with the jaw harp.

    Playing the Japanese jaw harp Kohkin is what I like best

    I’m fascinated by the jaw harp because it is so small and such a quiet instrument as well. I can take it with me everywhere I go. You can play the jaw harp at public spots without harassing anyone at all. That’s the reason why I play the jaw harp as often. I simply take it always with me. While I’m waiting somewhere, I just get it out of my pocket and pass some time.


    I like best playing the Japanese, black jaw harp, the so called Kohkin. I like it, because I play on small jaw harps only and the smith in Japan builds small, good quality instruments. On those small Kohkins I can apply all my playing techniques. The only problem I encounter is that my way to play makes the instruments break rather quickly. Three of them already broke and since the Kohkin are quite valuable I decided to go for some budget instruments. That’s why I play the Vargan instruments from Paul Potkin that come from the Altai mountains. They are inexpensive, quality is solid and they simply don’t break as quickly.

    More information on Nadishana:

  • The online sound archive at the Musée de l´Homme in Paris is a treasure trove of Jew's harp music

    It is one of the most exciting internet archives of folk music currently in existence: The collection at the "Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie (CREM) des Musée de l´Homme" in Paris. At the moment, you can find 1000 hours of archived material, music recordings from all over the world. The scientists at CREM have been working up until today to digitalise the old phonograph cylinders, tapes and DAT cassettes in order to allow the public access to them online. Around 3700 hours of material have already been released on recording media, roughly the same amount of live music recordings have still not been published. Some rare recordings worth listening to can be found by using the keyword "guimbarde", Jew's harp.



    An „Air de jig“ entitled „Padeen O’Rafferty“, recorded by John Wright in 1955 in Irland, is to be found among them. There is a recording of the tchang Jew's harp, drums and rebab from Radio Kabul in Afghanistan. The geologist Francois Ellenberger recorded Jew's harp music in 1959 in Lesotho. In 1955 the Philippine composer and music ethnologist José Maceda documented Bilaan Jew's harp music on the southern end of the island of Mindanao.

    Les Guimbardes du musée de l'homme - Geneviève Dournon-Taurelle & John Wright

    Made in the second half of the 1940s , the recording from the island of Puluwat, Micronesia, is a rare jewel worth listening to. The recordings made by the musicologist Geneviève Dournon between 1976 and 1982 in Rajasthan are also a voyage of discovery. These field recordings were first released in 1984 on the record "Rajasthan vièles et guimbardes" by Le Chant du Monde, but can now also be listened to in CREM's online archive. In 1978, together with John Wright, Geneviève Dournon released a classic scientific book about Jew's harps: "Les Guimbardes du musée de l´Homme", the Musée de l´Homme's Jew's harps' collection catalogue.


    Furthermore, there are sound recording examples from Bali and Timor (Indonesia) in the CREM data base.

    In the archive itself there are further recordings by John Wright or Tran Quang Hai, but they cannot yet be listened to online. This is partly because the rights to the recordings lie with the publishers, so they are only available in the archive or on CD. Incidentally, the CREM archive infrastructure is based on the Telemeta open source software. There is a lot to discover. Have loads of fun browsing!

  • Goayandi - Jaw Harps in Natural Organic Trance Music

    2014-goayandi-boom-4 (Medium)

    Since the primary musical instrument we started with obviously was the jaw harp, DAN MOI is trying to support a few jaw harp musicians once in a while. In this article we would like to introduce one of those bands merging live played electronical trance music with archaic musical instruments like didgerdoos, drums and percussions, and last but not least jaw harps. This French band is called GOAYANDI and they call their musical style "Natural Organic Trance".

    We asked François from Goayandi to briefly tell us the story of Goayandi and his personal relationship to jaw harps:

    "Goayandi got created 10 years ago; we were a group of friends gathering in the forest to jam with drums, guitars, didgeridoos et jaws harp around the fire.

    I first played drums and naturally the jaw harp came to me while I discovered this instrument through people in France, India and other places…

    I was fascinated by its sound, by its ecstatic and hypnotic power and its similitude with trance and electronic music. Playing a jaw harp with a drum for me is the best combination to make/translate trance music.

    For me it also represents a good way to meditate or dance.

    I tried several types but my favourite is the “Dan Moi” jaw harp, because it’s easy to play and it can be played only putting it at the lips. You don’t need to use your teeth and damage them!

    Also, the wide range of sounds of this instrument can give a multitude of colors and a cosmic dimension to the music played.

    For me, the jaw harp is the best synthesizer, multi effect, or dj filter ever. This instrument has the most psychedelic sound on earth; you don’t need a machine to make techno music, just play it, naturally, organically…"

    Goayandi on Tour

    Goayandi will be on tour again this year. Check out their tour calendar (will be updated soon!) here:


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