• 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:

  • A life with the Jew's harp: Neptune Chapotin and his market stall in Goa, India

    Neptune Chapotin plays Moorsing at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    Neptune Chapotin was born in India, lived for 15 years in the United States and then returned to India, Goa, where he, down to the present day, spends most of the year. He is now regarded as a person who knows the Jew's harp scene in India, Nepal and Pakistan very well. The people of Arambol, Goa, know Neptune Chapotin as the man with the Jew's harp stand at the weekly market, who shows passers-by, including many tourists, until late at night, how sounds can be educed from this small metal instrument. Many people stop at the stall, some linger for hours and play their way through the collection of Jew's harps from around the world. What Neptune offers to people is above all convincing, because the 30-year-old lives for the Jew's harp.

    Neptune held his first Jew's harp in his hands when he was 12 years old. His mother had brought the instrument back from a journey to Afghanistan in 1969. He tried to play it but soon put the instrument aside. When Neptune´s family moved to India, the Jew's harp was left behind. Then in 2002, in Sweden, he encountered the Jew's harp again, this time inconspicuously and more as a minor matter in a tourist shop. He hesitated briefly but also did not take the Jew's harp with him this time. Nevertheless, the instrument found a deep place in the Chapotin´s memory, in the meantime he began to dwell on the missed opportunities and absolutely wanted to acquire a Jew's harp. When finally the third opportunity knocked and at a music store in South India several moorsings were offered for sale, Chapotin seized it. In the following months he dedicated all his efforts to the instrument, looked for new sounds and practiced stroke speed and precision. As a Jew's harp player he sounds unique today - his personal playing technique combines autodidactic elements with musical styles from various Jew's harp schools, including Yakutia, Norway, Vietnam, Pakistan and India.

    Neptune Chapotin plays Moorsing Jaw Harp at the Ancient Trance Festival 2014

    Since 2009 Neptune Chapotin shares the fascination which the Jew's harp exerts on him, once a week with new people interested in it at the stall in Goa. Some people return months or even years later to the stall, Chapotin says. "They admit to me that they just couldn't forget the instrument after playing it at my stall." Chapotin knows exactly what is spread out on the cloth of his Jew's harp stall.
    At every opportunity he himself travels around the world to meet Jew's harp players and blacksmiths. He is convinced that every instrument had its own soul, its own character. "Each instrument maker has his personal story with the instrument. Some have been passed down from generation to generation, some simply taught themselves how to make a Jew's harp. The creation of a Jew´s harp can involve many techniques and hand grips." Chapotin looks over the shoulder of the smiths, creates some instruments and also learns melodies of different Jew's harp styles and cultures.

    For the active Jew's harp scene in south Asia, Neptune Chapotin has become a central network point. For a long time, he saw it as a shortcoming that in India, in a culture rich in Jew's harp music, there had never been a separate, independent stage for Jew's harp music. Where do Jew's harp players meet? "It is a strange phenomenon, normally all Jew's harp players carry a Jew's harp around with them in their pockets, they love to play it. But they do not know who else plays. For one cannot recognize a Jew's harp player until he takes his Jew's harp out of his pocket and plays." A festival, says Neptune Chapotin, is a fantastic place to meet and play with other musicians who also play the Jew's harp. The World Mouth Harp Festival of India, which took place in january 2015 for the third time was developed for this exact reason. Each year, international guests, including more and more mursing players, come to the festival in Arambol - a sign that in India too, a revival of Jew's harp music may have begun.

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