Neptune Chapotin

  • Moorsing, Morchang and Gogona: The Jew's harps of India

    Asia is a continent with an extraordinary variety of Jew's harps. Comparatively speaking, we in Europe know very little about the use of the Jew's harp in South Asia, in Pakistan, Nepal and India. But there, too, one can discover a lively Jew's harp culture. Not least thanks to the musician Neptune Chapotin. The World Mouth Harp Festival in Goa provides a platform for Jew's harp music in India, which was first organised by Neptune Chapotin in 2013. In recent years, musicians from Bangalore in southern India were guests at the festival, as were those from the provinces of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

    Screenshot World Mouth Harp Festival of India

    In Bangalore, in southern India there is a lively scene full of many moorsing players. The moorsing (also sometimes written as morsing, mursing or moursing) is not only played as a solo instrument but also in ensembles. "The moorsing is a percussion instrument in the carnatic music of southern India. It is the fifth instrument in the instrumental hierarchy of carnatic music. In this context it is interesting to note that one very seldom sees or hears the moorsing played, although it is one of the main instruments of classical southern Indian music.," says Neptune Chapotin.


    Bharadwaj Sathavalli - Melo Lamella - Morsing Album


    The moorsing virtuoso Bharadwaj Sathavalli is one of the best-known instrumentalists from Southern India; in 2003 an album of his entitled "Melo Lamella" was released in Europe by Dan Moi Productions.


    Week after week, Neptune Chapotin sells Jew's harps from all over the world at his market stall in Goa. When he tells of this activity, one has the impression he sees the buying and selling of Jew's harps as more as an ambassadorial task than a business one: "I spend the whole night teaching people how to play the Jew's harp. I show the instrument briefly to all those who come to my stall and ask 'what is that' and if I have aroused their interest then I ask them if they would like to try it themselves. People often then say "Oh, no", "I am not a bit talented musically, I can't do that." Then I say, "In 30 seconds I will show it to you". The challenge is completely mine: "My offer is, 'You try it out, learn how to play it and then you can leave; you don't have to buy an instrument.' And when they have learned the basics, I say "Take each one of the Jew's harps here and try it, now that you know how to play the instrument. I'll show you the various techniques and Jew's harps, which one plays with the teeth and those that are played with the lips and I'll show you how to hold them. But most importantly: Enjoy playing! Many people do not buy a Jew's harp at my stall but perhaps they find one in a different part of the world." Chapotin is himself an excellent Jew's harp player, who has developed a really individual style: a mixture of diverse Jew's harp styles among them Yakutia, Norway, Vietnam, Pakistan and India.

    In the northern region of India called Assam, the gogona, a bamboo Jew's harp, is played. There are two types of gogonas, one is shorter and thicker, the other longer and thinner. One of the two is the male gogona, the other is the female instrument. The gogona is played in traditional music, but women also wear the gogonas in their hair like a hair pin during traditional dances. The men put the instruments on their costumes for the dance. During the dance the women take their gogonas out of their hair and play the instruments while simultaneously dancing.

    In Hindustani music, the classical music of northern India, the Jew's harp is not played. In Rajasthan and Gujarat the Jew's harp is a folk instrument. There it is called the morchang. The travelling musicians of Rajasthan play the morchang The Kutch nomads also play the morchang, e.g. to pass the time while they mind the sheep. A selection of Jew's harp music from Rajasthan was published in the "Le Chant du Monde" series by bei Harmonia Mundi on a record in1984. Thanks to the CREM archive (Centre for the Research of Ethnomusicology) in Paris, these recordings can now be listened to online.

  • 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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