Dutar -Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument

Dutar is a two string pear-shaped long-necked lute from western China, played by the Uyghur and Uzbek people of Xinjiang Province.

Dutar ( Dutor or Dotar ) is the main plucked instrument all over Central Asia. It can be found in many different shapes and styles, but Uyghur Dutar is the largest in form, and Kashgar Dutar is the typical style. It is used to accompany singing and dancing and also can be an instrument of virtuosity.


The Origin


Although western ethnomusicologists state that these instruments came from the Persian Dutar or Dotar (originally a two-string instrument but now with four strings), the Uyghur people say that the Persian instrument descended from theirs. In Persian, the term Dutar or Dotar means two strings with Do or Du meaning two, and tar meaning string. It is interesting to note the number of instrument names that contain the term tar, e.g. Sitar comes from the Persian Setar or four strings and the guitar.




Usually Dutar are carved from a single block of wood, but both the large Dutar of the Uzbeks and the Uyghurs are made of staves. The Uyghur Dutar has two gut or raw silk strings, and gut frets. It comes in a number of sizes ranging from 1 to 3 meters or 3 to 6 feet in length.




The body of the Uyghur Dutar is made from separate ribs (usually mulberry wood), glued together with often a narrow half round strip on the outside of the joins (slightly raised). The flat front is also made of thin mulberry wood. There is no sound hole. musical instruments




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The long thin neck (mulberry or apricot) includes the straight peg box. The frets are made of 4-windings of nylon strings and tied-on in half diatonic scale. There is no groove at the side. There are two flat T-shaped friction pegs, one on the front, and one on the left. The two silk strings run over a small loose bridge to a bit of wood at the edge of the body.

musical instruments The neck is often highly decorated with inlay bone or black and white plastic nowadays in squares, triangles, lines. The top of the ribs have triangle inlays, together forming a kind of wind rose. The entire instrument except the front is varnished.




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Dutar has a warm, dulcet tone. It is played in folk and Uyghur classical music On Ikki Maqam or the Twelve Maqam. Dutar remains a very popular instrument amongst the Uyghur people, and it can be found in many Uyghur households. musical instruments
Left hand playing is with two fingers for the first string and the thumb for the second string. The right hand plays often in a rhythmic fashion with a different finger for each beat. But also normal strumming with the index finger is done. Although some players play solos on the Dutar, it is mainly used to accompany songs.’

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Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument – Ghijek

The Ghaychak or Ghijek is a round-bodied musical instrument with three or four metal strings and a short fretless neck. Ghijek is very popular throughout Central Asia. It is used by Iranians, Afghans, Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Tajiks, Turkmens and Qaraqalpaks. musical instruments




musical instruments Ghidjak is the only bow instrument found in the Pamirs. Ghijek is usually carved from the wood of an apricot tree. Very thin wood covers the bowl, and cowhide is stretched inside the drum as a sound table. The bowl has many holes, to make the sound more resonant, and it is adorned with colorful ornaments. Its sound box is metal or wooden, and it has three or four metal strings and a neck made of willow, apricot or mulberry wood. It is tuned in intervals of fourths. The sound box is carved out of a single piece of wood. The upper orifice is partly covered in the middle by the handle and the lower one is covered by a skin membrane against which rest the bridge. The bow is made of horsehair and tied to a curved stick.




Ghijek is a spiked fiddle, meaning it is meant to be played upright, rather than horizontally like a western fiddle. It has four strings and a short neck, making it similar to a modern violin. To play Ghijek , place the head on your leg, the neck in your left hand, and hold the bow with your right. If you are familiar with playing a violin, playing Ghijek should come easily.

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Ghijek produces a trembling, whining sound and is often highly decorated. To hear Ghijek is to hear the spring, flowers blooming, birds singing. Ghijek is the most popular bowed instrument in Uyghur orchestra. It is also played alone in solo recitals.




Ghijek first appeared in a bow and arrow shape in early Uyghur Oral histories. Its print debut occurred during the Song Dynasty (960-1279CE) in China, where it was described as having horsetail strings. The instrument seemed to develop in parallel with the more well known Persian Ghijek , yet the Uyghur Ghijek was unique. These Ghijek typically had 2 bowed strings, and 10 sympathetic strings, as noted by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE) scholars. Over time, Ghijek is standardized on the short neck form. In 1955, Uyghur masters standardized Ghijek to 4 strings and aligned the tones with the western scale, a modern instrument ties to its over 1000 year tradition.

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Xinjiang Uyghur Musical Instrument – Rawap

Rawap is one of the most popular musical instruments for Uyghur people. The Uyghur people are accustomed to taking their Rawap wherever they go, be it a small gathering on the farm or during the long distance travel when riding on the camel. musical instruments




Rawap has three main parts, ear, handle, and head. The goat’s horns are a very unique feature to Uyghur Rawap .

musical instruments In the old days Rawap is faced with horse or donkey hides. Today, however, snake skin is used for the highest quality Rawap , while Ox skin is also commonly used.




Several different types are played by the Uyghurs, such as Kashgar Rawap , Qoychi Rawap , Qumul Rawap . Kashgar Rawap are the most popular ones.

Kashgar Rawap


Kashgar Rawap , which is called after the town Kashgar where it is found, is a long-neck lute, around 90cm, unlike the Afghan Rawap, which is a short-neck lute.

musical instruments The body and the beginning of the neck is carved from one piece of mulberry wood, in a kind of half coconut shape, with two bended horn-like extensions at both sides at the beginning of the neck. The front is covered with a thick skin, often made of python skin. The long half round neck is joined by a V-join to the horns. The frets are tied-on nylon in 3-double windings in an almost chromatic scale. At the left side of the neck is a groove.

The peg box is glued to the neck, and turns quite sharply backwards in a curve. There are 2 pegs on the right and 3 pegs on the left side of the open peg box. The pegs are T-shape, but rounded. There are 5 metal strings, with only the first one fingered and a bit separate from the others which serve as drones and resonance strings. The strings run over a small loose wooden bridge on the skin to two pins at the end of the body. There is lots of inlay decoration of black and white horn in fishbone, triangles, stripes, etc. Also the back of the body has inlayed lines.

The Kashgar Rawap has more recently become a professional virtuoso solo and orchestral instrument with six metal strings tuned. An equivalent bass Rawap has also been added to professional orchestras.




The player holds the instrument horizontally, at about shoulder level, and plucks with a plectrum in the right hand while pressing the strings with the left hand. Tremolo is its characteristic playing technique. The sound is extremely echoing due to the resonance strings via the skin. It is used in accompaniment of folk songs and dances. musical instruments

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How to Play Hulusi

Hulusi is played vertically and has three pipes which connect with the gourd wind chest. It has a very pure, clarinet-like sound.




The traditional materials for making Hulusi are bamboo and gourd. Bamboo is used for the pipes and gourd is used for the wind chest. Nowadays many new materials are used to replace bamboo and gourd. The new materials often used are sandalwood, ebony and cloisonné to make Hulusi look prettier, more luxurious and more professional look. The reeds are made of brass. A plastic sheath is inserted in which protects the two pipes and keeps them sturdy.


Main Pipe


Single pipe Hulusi are rare. Two or three pipes are the most common. Most Hulusi have a main pipe, which has seven holes, 6 in the front and 1 thumbhole in the back. In 1958, a fourteen-note version was invented, and in the 1970’s a version with two melody pipes, tuned a fourth apart, was invented. Take the following Hulusi for example, the player can either play the key of G or D, depending on which mouthpiece and main pipe is controlling. Musical Instruments


Drone Pipes


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Hulusi has a main pipe and two drone pipes, which can play chord. One drone pipe produces high pitch and once produces low pitch. But it is not uncommon for a Hulusi to have only one drone pipe sound while the other drone pipe is merely ornamental and has no sound.

For the above Hulusi , the one on the left have two pipes both playing chord while the one on the right only has one drone pipe sound.


How the drone pipes play chords?


Traditionally, there are two foam lids at the end of drone pipes, which can be plugged or unplugged to open or close the drones when playing. When the lids are open, the high pitch drone produces a “mi” tone along with the “so” tone of the main pipe when having all finger holes closed, and the low pitch drone produces a “la” tone as resonance. However, the foam lids are not convenient to control as you need to move your hand away from the main pipe when playing, which might disturb the playing.

Drone pipes with foam lids
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In recent years, there is new technique to replace the foam lids on the drones as to make the drones easy and convenient to control when playing. The drone switches are for great delivery of sound and are quick on and off.

drone pipes with switches
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The new technique allows you to switch on and off the drones easily at any time without affecting the playing.

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Xinjiang Kazakh Musical Instrument – Dombra

Dombra is a pear shaped long necked lute of the Kazakh people of Central Asia. It belongs to the family of two-stringed lutes that are widespread in Central Asia. musical instruments




Dombra in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is also referred Dambura or Danbura in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Dumbura in Bashkir and Tatar, Dombor in Mongolia, Dombra in Kazakhstan, Dombira Xinjiang China. The name arises from the Persian Tanbur Instrument shares some of its characteristics with the Turkic Komuz. The Dutar of Turkmenistan is also closely related.




The instrument consists of a rectangular or oval body usually hewn out of a single piece of wood, covered by a wooden soundboard, with a long, slender neck. It is usually unfretted, although modern versions of the instrument have added frets set at chromatic intervals. Dombra is strung by a single gut, or nylon string, which passes from a wooden tuning peg at the end of the neck, looped around a pin at the base of the body and up to a second peg to make two tunable strings.




Dombra is played without a plectrum and is strummed quite rapidly with the index finger, or with the index finger and thumb. Typically Dombra music alternates between double and triple rhythms and has a general emphasis on fourths and fifths as basic structural intervals, with the widespread use of melody plus drone. musical instruments




The instrument differs slightly in different regions. The Kazakh Dombra has frets and is played by strumming with the hand or plucking each string individually, with an occasional tap on the main surface of the instrument. While the strings are traditionally made of sinew, modern Dombra are usually produced using nylon strings.

The Turkestani and Badachstan Dambura are fretless with a body and neck carved from a single block of wood, usually mulberry or apricot. Dambura is played with much banging and scratching on the instrument to help give a percussive sound. The two strings are made of nylon or gut. They cross a short bridge to a pin at the other end of the body. There is a tiny sound hole in the back of the instrument, while the top is thick wood. It is not finished with any varnish and filing of any kind, and as with all other Afghan instruments there is some decoration.

Dumbura is the equivalent instrument of the Tatars and Bashkirs. A performer strikes all the strings at the same time. The upper string performs the bourdon tone and the lower string performs the melody. Dumbura is used as a solo as well as an ensemble instrument.

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Dombra especially associated with pastoral nomadic peoples and was traditionally used to play dance tunes, solo programmatic pieces, or to accompany songs and epic tales. The Kazakh poet Abay Qunanbayuli is often shown holding a Dombra at rest and many hold it in high regard as a symbol of nationalism among the post-Soviet nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States. But now virtuosic instrumental pieces are also common. As a result, Dombra has become a popular instrument with non-Kazakh peoples throughout Central Asia, Russia and Dombra clubs in the United States.

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Muqam, the Living Fossils of Uyghur Music

The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music is the Muqam, consisting of poetic songs, stories and dance tunes. There are various forms of Muqam music in more than 20 different countries. However, the Muqam music in China Xinjiang Autonomous Region boasts the biggest in composition, longest in history and richest in forms among all the existing Muqam music.

Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam is a composite of songs, dances, folk music, and is characterized by its diversities of content, dance styles and musical instruments. It serves as a witness of cultural exchanges between the east and the west. Being the communication hub en route the Silk Road, Xinjiang experienced collision and melting of eastern and western cultures. Consequently, the development of Muqam, originated from the local people, has greatly taken on the influence of multi-culture. The Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang has been designated by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity.



Twelve Muqam , the Mother of Uyghur Music


The Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam has developed into four main styles, namely the Twelve Muqam, Turpan Muqam , Hami Muqam and Dolan Muqam. Twelve Muqam is known as the Mother of Uygur Music. Have you ever heard such a concert that takes one day and one night to play? The Twelve Muqam of Xinjiang’s Uygur people has 360 melodies, 4,000-plus lines of lyrics, and the whole set needs 24 hours to finish.

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Legend has it in the mid-16th century, aided by other musicians, the imperial concubine Amannisahan of the Yarkant Kingdom, who was also an esteemed poetess and musician, devoted all her efforts to collect and compile Muqam music, which was then scattered across areas populated by Uyghur. She finally worked out 12 grand, yet entertaining compositions that are now known as the Twelve Muqam.
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In 1940s, the economy of Xinjiang was in recession and people lived in poverty and the 12 Muqam was facing extinction. In1950s there was only one person who could sing the complete 12 Muqam. He was Turdi Ahun born in a musician’s family in Yengisar County. He mastered 12 Muqam at the age of 20. He then performed the musical suite for more than 50 years in Kashgar, Hotan and other places. He could perform with the musical instrument of Tanbor, Duttar, Satar and Rawap. His performance with Satar was rated as unique in Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

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The local government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region made every effort possible to preserve the Twelve Muqam. In 1956, Muqam master Turdi Ahun and musician Wan Tongshu took great effort to record most of the vocal melodies and librettos of the Twelve Muqam. Their efforts paved the way for the renaissance of this cultural tradition. In 1960, two volumes of Twelve Muqam sung by Turdi Ahun were published. The oral cultural heritage was finally secured in the form of its first publication.


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How to Play Bawu


Constructure of Bawu



Bawu reed and mouthpiece
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Bawu is composed of three parts.

Main Pipe is the melody pipe. It has seven sound holes, 6 in the front, 1 in the back. The main pipe enables nine full tones and eight semi-tones /combined-tones.

Reed is located inside the top end of the main pipe. Most of them are made of brass.

Mouthpiece could be made of various materials such as metal, ox horn, wood, bamboo or plastic.


Basic Rules to Play Bawu


Bawu is played in a horizontal manner except the new models which are played vertically. The player must cover the reed entirely with the mouth and apply substantial air pressure to maintain the vibration of the reed. Bawu is only capable of a single octave and unlike free reed mouth-organs it is only played by exhaling.

Take a traditional model for example. It has a thumb hole, six finger holes, plus a tuning hole and a range of just over an octave. It is made from two detachable bamboo pipes and its overall tuning can be varied by adjusting the joint between the two pieces. A key of G instrument plays the scale D E F# G A B D E:

Additional pitches can be played by cross-fingering and half-holing and a G instrument would typically also be played in the keys of D, C and sometimes Bb. Musical Instrument




Bawu has 7 holes, 6 on the front and 1 on the back. So the fingering is somewhat similar to the transverse flute or saxophone.

From left to right, number the holes 0 to 6, with 0 corresponding to the left thumb hole. Typical booklets say the following:

Cover all holes and blow lightly for the lowest tone (which is Mi in the key of the instrument). Cover all holes and blow hard for the low So. Opening hole 6 while blowing hard gets you La; opening 5 and 6, Si; opening all right hand holes, Do. From then on we get Re if we also open 3, Mi if 2 and 3, and high So if only 0 is covered. And the higher the tone, the softer one needs to blow.


Throat resonance


Following the directions strictly, maybe one wound run into a problem with tonguing and staccatos. When the air-flow is cut off, the freely vibrating reed with feel the pressure lessen and revert to the fundamental resonance, which is either a low Mi or low Fa. This causes problems because one would then hear a sorry-sounding downward glissando after every attempt to play a staccato, instead of a hard cut-off.

The solution to that is throat resonance. Think of it as an extension to setting an embouchure. In addition to changing the lip profile itself, when playing single reed instruments like the saxophone and the clarinet, it is important to “open up the throat”. One wants to expand the muscle that is right below the point where the jaw connects to the neck.

Experiments show that by opening up the throat, you can blow on the Bawusoftly while still producing the higher harmonics, and by relaxing the muscle there, you can immediately drop down to the fundamental resonance.

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Music of the Uyghur

The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. An estimated 80 % of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. Uyghur Musical Instruments The Uyghur have a great love of singing and dancing. They have been known for their vibrant music and ethnic dances since very ancient times. Music and dance occupy a significant place in life of the Uyghur. There are no holidays, parties and wedding festivities without music and dances. Uighur traditional songs are remarkable for their melodious originality.


Distinctive Uyghur Music


Uyghur Musical Instruments

Uyghur music embraces several distinct regional styles, product of the geography and complex history of the region, whose oasis kingdoms, separated by mountains and deserts, have been subject through the course of history to rule by many different outside forces.


The History of Uyghur Music


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Uyghur scholars trace the roots of their music back to the 11th century BC to the Di people who are referred to in the earliest of the Chinese dynastic annals, living to the north of China. And generally speaking, the historical flow of music has largely moved from west to east in the following centuries. While Chinese histories record the influence of the Western Region on central China, Uyghur music has historically absorbed much influence from the regions of Central Asia to the west, arriving along the famed Silk Road.


Distinct Regional Styles


Due to the particular geography of Xinjiang and the constant influence of one culture on another, musical styles have developed along different paths over the years, and each tradition is typical of its locality.

The musical traditions of the southern oasis towns of Khotan and Kashgar are more closely allied to the classical Central Asian traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand, while the music of the easternmost oasis town of Qumul has closer links to the music of Northwest China. Each of the region’s oasis towns have to this day maintained their own distinctive sound and repertoire, but they are linked by a common language and overarching culture, maintained by constant communication through trade and movement of peoples. Musically there is much to link these local traditions, in terms of instruments, genres, styles and contexts.


Traditional Uyghur Music


There are several kinds of traditional Uygur music, the most famous of which is the classic Uygur musical composition the “Twelve Muqam”, a major force in the development of Uygur folk music. Uyghur Musical Instruments

Another kind of Uygur music is called “Sanam,” or “beauty,” which involves singing and dancing to a group consisting of between seven to a dozen pieces of song-and-dance music. The music begins slowly and steadily, then picks up speed, and finally culminates in a climax of merry music and exuberant dances.

“Kuxak,” “Eytixish,” and “Maida” are spoken songs, which are common among the Uygur people. Accompanied by simple tunes, the speaker will talk his way through a song, usually about the love between a man and a woman. These songs can also be performed by two people.

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Bawu – A Talking Instrument

Bawu is a free reed musical instrument of China folk music. It is played by the Dai, Hani, Miao, Yi in southwest China.

bamboo Bawu with detachable pipe
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A Beautiful Legend


There is a beautiful legend about the origin of theBawu. Two young people from Hani tribe fell in love with each other. One day a demon grabbed the girl and separated these two lovers. Then the demon cut off the girl’s tongue and threw her into the mountains. The girl luckily survived. Following a bird’s advice that bamboo can talk, she made an instrument with bamboo and pouring out her misfortune through it. On hearing the sad melody from the bamboo the villagers came to kill the demon and saved the girl. She finally married her lover. Since then Bawu became known as a talking instrument.
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Being Popular


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Although Bawu is originated from ethnic tribes of Southwest China, it has become a popular instrument throughout China. The rich and mellow tone of Bawu has become a favorite with composers of film soundtracks. It is heavily featured in the film Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon , an Oscar Winner for Best Music. Many Chinese music ensembles now feature a Bawu.

sandalwood Bawu with dual pipes
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ebony Bawu with vertical played pipe
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In recent years, Bawu crafters take this very traditional instrument into a new stage. The newly designed Bawu are better with high quality copper reeds and mechanical keys. The new models can be vertically played and have dual pipes to extend the range of octaves. The materials are from traditional bamboo and upgrade to sandalwood and ebony. These improvements in materials and craft technique greatly enhance its popularity to music lovers.

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Hulusi, Oriental Saxophone

If you like playing and collecting Chinese musical instruments, Hulusi will not disappoint you.





natural gourd and bamboo pipe Hulusi
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natural gourd and sandalwood pipe Hulusi
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Hulusi is the free wind instrument of Chinese folk music. It is originated from ethnic Dai tribe in Yunnan in the Southwest China, which can be traced back to Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC to 220 AD). It is also popular among other ethnic groups like De’ang, Hani and Yi in the nearby regions. Dai people call it “Bi Lang Dao”. “Bi” means wind instrument, “Lang” means vertically held, and “Dao” means gourd. Whereas, in Chinese Mandarin the instrument is called Hulusi , named after its shape and sound. “Hulu” means gourd, and “si” means silk, implying the sound is as soft as silk. For its soft and harmonious sound, it is described as Oriental Saxophone.


Construction and Various Types


Hulusi or Gourd Flute is made of a gourd with bamboo pipes fixed at the bottom. The gourd is the wind chest. The middle pipe is the main pipe with 7 finger holes, 6 on the front and 1 on the back. The pipes next to the main pipe on both sides are drone pipes or harmonic pipes. The reeds are at the top end of the pipes. Most of reeds are made of brass, and could be in triangle or rectangle shape. Hulusi is a solo instrument and rarely played in ensembles. It was predominantly played by the Dai and other non-Han ethnic groups in Yunnan province but now can be seen everywhere in China.

cloisonne gourd and ebony pipe Hulusi
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sandalwood gourd and sandalwood pipe Hulusi
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There are various types of gourd planted all over China, while those planted in Yunnan, with its slim shape, thick texture and solid structure is considered the most ideal for making Hulusi . In addition to natural gourd, quality timber such as ebony and sandalwood are popular choice for more professional players.


Legend about Hulusi


The sound of Hulusi is hauntingly beautiful, mellow and tender, and has a very pure, clarinet-like sound. It is ideal for expressing soft and tender feelings. Traditionally, Dai men play Hulusi to express their love to women and they also play Hulusi in the fields when taking a break from planting or harvesting. Musical Instruments Musical Instruments

There is a legend about Hulusi among Dai people. In the remote past, a Dai young man saved his girl friend from a flood by holding a big gourd and rushing through the turbulent waves. His loyalty to love touched Buddha, who inserted bamboo pipes into a gold gourd and gave it to the brave man. Holding up the gold gourd, the man played beautiful music. All of a sudden, the torrential flood retreated, flowers blossomed and peacocks opened their tails. All things on earth seemed to be sending their good wishes to the lovers. Ever since then, Hulusi has been passed down from generation to generation among Dai people. Musical Instruments

Hulusi is widely appreciated for its beautiful and soft sound. Although it is still predominantly performed in China, Hulusi has been popular in other countries. It has in recent years been adopted by European composers and performers. Rohan Leach from England, Rapheal De Cock from Belgium and Herman Witkam from the Netherlands have all taken the instrument in new directions.

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