A big thank you to NiNa for sharing these amazing recordings from a night celebrating with her friends from a Lisu performance group.
Selection from liner notes:
Over half of China’s fifty-five national minorities are concentrated in the southwest, Most share some cultural features with the ethnic minorities in northern mainland Southeast Asia. One such group is the Dongs who live in the mountainous border of southeastern Hunan and western Quizhou Provinces and northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The Dongs are famous for their mortised bridges, drum towers, and singing. There is a saying among the Dongs: “Speech is incomplete; only singing can express everything.” (Hung 1959: 37) They have songs for almost every occasion of daily life, including songs for welcoming and sending off guests, and for meeting friends on the road. (You 1979: 24) According to a survey done in the Southeastern Hunan area, there are 47 types of songs for different purposes and within the love song category there are seven subtypes. (Hung 1959: 40-47) The Dongs are fond of part singing, a feature less frequently found among the Han-Chinese and the other minorities discussed hitherto. Dong choirs are organized by sex, age, and vocal range (Fang 1960: 26). The top part of a two-part choir, the most usual kind, is carried by one or two lead singers and the bottom by the rest of the group. The relationship of the two can be in drone, question-answer, organum, or imitation (Nian 1960: 35) and the most common harmonic intervals encountered are thirds (Fang 1960: 27). The five-tone scale in minor mode, like the “Mongolian Mode” mentioned earlier, is the most popular though by no means the only mode used. Among the instruments of the Dongs, the following are commonly found: len (mouth organ), gi (bamboo recorder), piba (small 4-stringed lute), go kie (small 3-stringed lute), and ba mei (tree leaves) (Hung 1959: 37-40)
8. Guangyin-axinshang (Dong)
Text by Li Runqin and Jiang Fan, music arranged by Ji Zhou; Wang Yinju and Li Runqin, lead singers accompanied by the Chorus of the Guizhou Song and Dance Troupe, Dong Dangan, instrument soloist. Sung in Mandarin. (1-1409A/B)
The Dongs like to organize their songs in suites with introduction, songs, coda. This one belongs to this type of song-suite. It is a mountain song, i.e. love song with improvisatory text sung in the mountain. Despite the “concert” arrangement, most musical features discussed above are present. A gi and a man’s whistle are used as accompaniment. Contrary to the Han examples in Volume 1 and non-Han examples heard so far in the Volume, the Dongs sing in a rather relaxed and low-pitched voice.
Citations for selection:
Fang Jishen. 1960. “The Basic Characteristics of Folk Choral Singing among the Dongs, the Zhuangs, the Puyis, and the Yaos) Renmin Yinyue, March: 26-28.
Hung Tai. 1959. “The Folk Music of the Dongs in Tongdao, Hunan” Yinyue Yenjiu, No. 4: 37-54.
Nian Yi. 1960. “The Folksongs of the Dongs” Renmin Yinyue, October: 35-37.
You Yuwen. 1979. “With the Dong People of Guangxi” China Reconstructs, Vol. XXVIII, No. 7, July: 22-25.
Excerpt from Folk Tales and Legends of the Dai People
Edited by John Hoskin and Geoffrey Walton
Translated from Chinese text by Ying Yi