Travel Blog - Naxi folk singer

    2012-12-28 16:25:34         Web Editor: Luo Chun

It is said that Naxi music has the power to cleanse the heart and relax the mind. More than 1,000 years ago, the Naxi people recorded many beautiful legends, poems and folk songs. In Lijiang's ancient town, there is a 67-year-old Naxi folk singer, who has been making efforts to pass down the unique music of the Naxi minority to younger generation.

Let's follow Zhang Wan to take a closer look.

This is a Naxi folk song; it's also a way of storytelling. The woman who is singing in the Naxi language is 67-year-old Li Xiuxiang, one of the few Naxi folk singers who are still alive today.

Li Xiuxiang says this is one of the fixed tunes of Naxi music. It's usually used for festive occasions to express happiness.

"We Naxi ethnic group have different fixed tunes for different occasions. For instance, we have fixed music for the dead and for weddings. We often sing the whole night on these occasions. The wowo tune is particularly for wedding ceremonies and happy occasions."

Naxi folk songs are always short and catchy. The tune of the songs is rhythmic and soft. The earliest Naxi folk songs were themed around hunting and gathering from the days when their people were nomads. After settling down in Yunnan Province, Naxi people adopted this singing to express their emotions.
Today, the Naxi folk songs can be divided into various groups according to different subjects such as folklore, marriage and love.

Aside from expressing emotions, the Naxi folk music tells stories. Li Xiuxiang says that in some Naxi music, there are stories from the traditional Dongba sutra from the Naxi ethnic minority.

The song mainly tells that human being and the nature are half brother.

"It says Naxi ethnic people are herdsmen who come from a riverhead. When we moved here we were warned by the god of nature that we would not be allowed to cut trees or kill wildlife; we could construct a river channel, but we could not catch frogs because there is nothing more important than keeping a good relationship with nature. Without nature, we wouldn't exist. However, we now betray our promise to nature. I feel shame for myself and my brother."

Li Xiuxiang who was born in a local family, began singing when she was 12 years old. She learned on the farm, not in a classroom.

"Most folk singers here learned singing on the farm. You know, music and songs are all from farms and mountains; they are right under your feet. These songs are created on the spot. When we are in different mountains, we sing different songs."

The Naxi people usually prefer to ad-lib when they are singing, so there are no fixed lyrics for the melodies. Li added that she loves Naxi folk music. When she was young, she could sing and dance day and night without getting tired.

But she says the number of singers is decreasing. She is worried that the music will disappear one day, so she has decided to record as much as possible.

"While I am still able to sing clearly, I want to select meaningful stories from the Dongba sutra and record the stories through singing. Over the past few years, I have recorded eight discs, which include eight songs of Naxi music."

Besides recording this music, Li Xiuxiang also worked part-time at local schools in Lijiang to teach children Naxi folk songs. She says most children, as well as teachers, are interested in the classes.

Li Xiuxiang says that she spends most of her time nowadays reading Dongba sutras and books in the Naxi language. She also plays traditional Naxi musical instruments that few people can do today, the kouxian literally means "mouth strings".

Li says it's hard to find a good quality instruments in the market nowadays, as it has almost disappeared. So, what she wants now is to keep healthy and live longer to spread the music to the younger generation. She hopes to pass down her precious musical instrument to her grandson.

For CRI, I am Zhang Wan.


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