A blog about the Jaw harp.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Good vibrations

Nepalese brass Murchunga

I recently read an interview with a Russian shaman. Russia is a big, diverse country with nine time zones and many ethnicities so amazing as it may seem to some people, there are shamans in some regions. The shaman was talking about the jaw harp and the positive vibrations it brings to the soul and body. He had a mystical approach to the instrument and one thing he said that stuck with me is that one should carry the j-harp with him/her in order to communicate with it. Get to know the instrument, get it to know you.

I don’t know about the rest but I have found at least that part to be true. The Jaw harp is one the most democratic instruments: everybody can afford one, it’s easy to carry and you don’t need lessons to play one. I’ve bought many jaw harps over the years and each time, I’ve found that it’s like a person. I have to get to know him/her before it sounds good and vice versa. Once there’s familiarity, care and love, it’s all nice: no panging, no twangs, no plinks, just good vibrations (Hey! Beach Boys!)

Those of you who read this blog know how much I love the jaw harp. I want people to know about it, pick one up and have fun with it. It’s a worldwide and ancient instrument that brings together different peoples with different histories together. In this age of fear of the other, a small, cheap, and easy to play instrument exists that says to us: you, man/woman, I am you in Nepal, France, Cambodia, Chile, India, Laos, Afghanistan or wherever you find me. I am you, everywhere.

If I know one thing is that we all need good vibrations. The jaw harp is not just an esoteric instrument reserved to shamans. It is an instrument that gives a particular flavor to a piece of music, the universal language. With that in mind, I spent some time to look for examples where the jaw harp is featured. As these few clips show, it comes up in unexpected places.

Listen closely and you can hear the good vibrations of the Jaw harp on this great song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Back in time, when The Who had Keith Moon and were musically daring, they too used the jaw harp.

In movies too you can hear the jaw harp. Here's the soundtrack to For a Few Dollars More, by the great film director Ennio Morricone. I just love the whistle and jaw harp together.

Here’s the intro to a 1970s TV show from France about the exploits of Mandrin, a French Robin Hood. Music by Lino Leonardi.

I hope you enjoyed these clips. There are many more examples but I have to leave some for you to discover. Until next time, boiiiiIIIiiiiiiininIIIininining!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall season in the Northern hemisphere

It's Fall for us folks north of the equator. Leaves are falling (banks too) carried off by the winds of the changing season. There is solace in the fact that down south, Spring is here!

Here are some news and happenings in the world of Jaw harps.

Jaw harp punk from Vienna, Austria! Ing. LOOP (pronounce: Engineer LOOP), the alter ego of Robert Koch, is a one-man-no-budget band. Ing. LOOP combines jaw harps, steel pans, marimba, percussion and other music instruments to create new sounds. Check him out!

From Boca Raton, Florida, here comes Professor Cunnigham. No J-harp here but I know some of you are also throat-singing enthusiasts and I think you'll enjoy this clip.

James E. Cunningham Ph.D. is an ethnomusicologist and assistant professor in the Department of Music at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. I know which university I'll be going to next. Check out his MySpace page for an extended version of "The Hamburger Song".

Earthsync is a world music record label committed to nurturing folk, tribal and native music. Musicians and singers from Myanmar, Maldives, Aceh, Indonesia, India and Thailand were brought together to perform for their Laya Live Project. Listen to and watch this magnificent piece played with morsingh, tabla, mridangam, bass guitar, drums and violin.

Dave Ruch has just put out his first record. This new release features venerable old folksongs, ballads, dance tunes and ditties from rural New York State interpreted tastefully with guitar, mandolin, jew's harp, 5-string & tenor banjo, concertina, fiddle, spoons, voice and more. Dave is equal parts historian, entertainer, educator, comedian and folklorist, he finds his song material in dusty archives, obscure songbooks, diaries, old recordings, scholarly journals and more. He’s a member of the New York State Historical Association.

No jaw harp here but similar sonorities from another great band from Congo called Kasai Allstars. Brought to you by one of my favorite record labels, Crammed Discs. This is the third volume in Crammed's Congotronics series.

From Israel by way of New York City comes Drummer Amir Ziv's and his band KOTKOT which includes percussionist Cyro Baptista, guitarist Marc Ribot and electric bassist Shahzad Ismaily. He describes his music as Melodramatic Popular Song / Grindcore / Lounge. I haven’t heard anything that experimental since John Abercrombie and friends or the Sex Pistols back in the 70s. I guess you’ll have to catch them live to hear the Jew's harp opening of "My Dentist in Hawaii." Meanwhile, you can check out Told You So.

Here is a neat project brought to you by Altamira, an association dedicated to exploring the role of culture in the development of societies. This release features the talent of the Lemhadong, a collective of women artists from the Sebu Lake region in the Philippines. I believe this album was recorded and produced by Boris Lelong. Check him out, he does very interesting work of his own. Praise to him for his 74’ long piece Hypnostasis. Here’s a piece from the CD played on a bamboo J-harp.

Reminder. Percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, pioneer in ice instruments, musical director
and more, the great Terje Isungset is touring with Trio MediƦval. They will be in the US in November. Don't miss!

I leave you with a piece by Pippo Di Stefano, King of Marranzano. Pippo shares some of his jaw harps and playing techniques. Way to go, Pippo!