Wang Li

  • Jew's harp stories from Norway, Part II: What legends tell us about the Munnharpe

    "Fangjen" performed by the Baikal Jew's Harp Orchestra

    Although the history of the Jew's harp in Norway before 1900 can only be partially reconstructed, due to the fact that only a few written testimonies regarding its use are known to us, the link between some Jew's harp melodies and legends indicate that there is an oral tradition which has been handed down with the instruments from generation to generation. Two of these legends are to be told here. One story stems from the Valdres region. It describes the belief in the magic power of the Jew's Harp to do good for mankind. The second story from the Gudbrandsdalen region deals with a prisoner who was a skilled Jew's harp player and is said to have written the melody to the well-known song "Fangjen".

    There are many legends about the Jew's Harp in Valdres. The folklorist Knut Hermundstad has collected some of them and published them. One of the legends tells of Hölje, who had gone fishing in the woods and spent the night in a small hut. Hölje could play the Jew's harp well. On this particular night he sat in the hut and played his instrument. All of a sudden, he heard noises outside the hut. People were dancing to the sound of his music. How could that be? Hölje knew that no other human was in the area apart from himself but he wasn't afraid and went on playing. Outside the dancing continued. When he grew tired he stopped playing and decided to head to bed. At that moment one of the dancers opened the door and said: "Oh, Hölje, you have been playing such lovely music." Holje answered: "you danced very well." The dancer replied: "Please, Hölje play one more song for us." You will not regret it. So please continue playing, Hölje. He played the whole night through, right until dawn. Hölje slept briefly and then rose to begin his work and to get his nets ready to go fishing. But when he arrived at the fishing nets, he found a big haul already in there. An amount of fish so great that it was too heavy to take it home with his bare hands. He had to walk back home to find a horse that would be able to transport the catch. The large haul was the payment for his Jew's harp music.

    A Jew's harp's ability to reach unearthly worlds is a subject which is to be found in other cultures too. In Russian shamanism the Jew's Harp is highly important. The Jew's Harp serves as a tool for humans on earth to contact people in another world. Today, the Jew's Harp, thanks to its unique sound, is also considered a spiritual medium connecting the organic and the transcendental. The artist Wang Li is of the belief that the Jew's Harp can create a connection between man and universe due to its vibrations. His greatest goal is that he will be played by the Jew's Harp and not the other way round.

    The second legend is called "Fangjen", the prisoner, and is told in Norway. It is the story of a young woman who was admired by two men The woman decided for one of the two men. The name of the other man was Kristen Forbergje. Hölje was known as good player of the Jew's Harp. It annoyed Kristen so much that he had not been chosen by the woman that he murdered his rival and dumped his body in a lake. However, his corpse was discovered a little bit later. When the funeral took place Kristen hid in a cave from where he had a good view of the road on which the funeral cortege passed by. One version of the legend has it that in the course of the funeral procession blood was dripping from the coffin as Kristen played his Jew's harp . The murder was solved and Kristen was sent to prison. Today, it is thought that the melody entitled "Fangjen" can be traced back to Kristen. He is said to have been executed in 1736. "Fangjen" is nowadays one of the most popular tunes in Gudbrandsdalen; it is played on the fiddle, the langeleik (Norwegian dulcimer) and the Jew's harp.

  • Jew's harp playing at the dance and folk festival in Rudolstadt

    The Dance and Folk Festival (TFF) in Rudolstadt (Germany) doubtlessly counts as one of the most important world music festivals in Europe. It has a unique profile which, time and time again, emphasizes new music acts and its own home-grown music projects. The festival stages and markets are embedded in the whole town and bestow a flair on the TFF that can't be found anywhere else in the world. DAN MOI regularly has a stall at the festival and Jew's harp fans, too, can hear their favourite instrument played during some of the stage performances.

    The DAN MOI Jaw Harp stand at the TFF Rudolstadt The DAN MOI Jaw Harp stand at the TFF Rudolstadt

    Traditionally Rudolstadt chooses a magical instrument each year. Some of the most brilliant instrumentalists are invited and in the week before the festival they work out a special schedule of concerts for the TFF. If one now asks when it is the Jew's harp's turn, we can at the moment only look back to the year 1999, for then the Jew's harp (as an instrument with a free reed) was a part of that year's magical instrument, the "mouth harmonica".

    Albina Degtyareva with her band Ayarkhaan

    Ten years later, the breathtaking group Ayarkhaan of Jew's harp expert virtuoso Albina Degtyareva took the stage in Rudolstadt. Ayarkhaan come from Yakutia and are capable of creating a musical experience from another world: the imitation of birdsong, the galloping of horses and a rhythmic speed which can leave a person dizzy. In 2011 the Swiss musician Anton Bruhin was a guest in Rudolstadt with his experimental approach to playing the Jew's harp.

    The Jew's Harp player Anton Bruhin

    The TFF was one of the first places in Europe where one could buy a Vietnamese Dan Moi. As far back as 2001 Clemens Voigt and Sven Otto were present at the start with their newly-founded musical instruments company DAN MOI. Clemens now recalls that: "People were curious the moment we unpacked the instruments. They came to our stall to try out the Dan Moi instruments for themselves. Many people were so surprised and fascinated by the sound of the instruments that they decided to take a Dan Moi with them. Back then we knew that the Jew's harp creates a magic with which one can really please a great many people. What was really special was that one didn't really need previous musical experience to play the Jew's harp.“ These first magical contacts of the audience with the Dan Moi have lost nothing of their power, in fact the contrary is the case, playing the Jew's harp is once again very popular. So we may hope that we will soon be able to experience one of the current virtuosi on the Jew's harp scene at the TFF again. What about the Franco-Chinese Artist Wang Li for instance? By the way, the dance and folk festival in Rudolstadt is taking place this year, as always, on the first weekend in July from July 2 to July 5 2015.

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