About René Paes

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Gue Gueq mondharpen uit China

Verfijnde bamboemondharpen afkomstig van het Na Xi volk uit Zuid-China. Elke set heeft bij elkaar passende tonen. De klankkleuren worden gekenmerkt door staccato-eigenschappen en passen vooral bij een percussieve speelwijze. Je houdt ze vast met de wijsvinger en duim van je linkerhand en slaat ze aan met wijsvinger en middelvinger van je rechterhand, of in combinatie met je duim. Deze harpen plaats je voor of op je lippen om de klanken te laten resoneren in je mondholte

Er is een legende van het Na Xi volk vergelijkbaar met Shakepeare’s tragedie Romeo en Julia. In deze legende spelen de Gue Gueq mondharpen een cruciale rol. De legende gaat over het meisje Kamegamiki die haar lief verbindt via haar mondharpen in een fataal pact. En wel met gecodeerde taal. De Na Xi mensen hadden te maken met de Han tradities en in dat verband werd voor Na Xi kinderen vanaf hun geboorte vastgelegd met wie ze zouden trouwen. De legende van Kamegamiki is beschreven door Peter Goutlart in ‘Forgotten Kingdom: Nine Years in Yunnan’, (1957):

In overeenstemming met toenmalige etiquette bracht Kamegamiki het onderwerp van zelfmoord niet rechtstreeks ter sprake, maar bracht zij haar bedoeling over in dichtvorm via de muziek van de Gue Gueq mondharpen. De Gue Gueq is een nationaal muziekinstrument van de Naxi en veel gebruikt voor liefdesuitingen. Terwijl Kamegamiki haar gefluisterde woorden begeleidde met de Gue Gueq, maakte zij een lange en melancholieke voordracht, waarin zij al haar kracht en charme legde om haar liefhebber te overtuigen van hun hopelose situatie met als enig perspectief de dood. Hij was niet zo gewillig om haar in de dood te volgen en had vele bezwaren tegen haar plan, die hij uitte in passende dichtvorm ook met behulp van de Gue Gueq. Maar Kamegamiki was volhoudend en uiteindelijk verbijsterde ze hem met haar aansporingen. 

There is so much suffering in this human world!
Farmers toil like beasts in the field,
yet they have scarcely finished breakfast
before they begin to worry where to find food for supper.
Herdsmen are surrounded by yak and sheep
and yet no meat ever crosses their teeth.
Girls weave from dawn till evening,
yet have not a decent stitch to wear.
Lovers share a mighty passion,
yet know they may never cross a threshold
as husband and wife.
You look on the world,
and the suffering stings your eyes.
To see the flowers in the meadows
you must come to my side.
You walk in the world
and the sharp stones slice your soles.
To walk barefoot through the cool grass
you must come to my side.
Come live in this vale of gentle breeze and bracing cloud.
Come sit in this far field, your hair braided with flowers.
Here the birds will sing with you in chorus.
Here you will weave bright raiments from morning mists.
Here you will sup on the sugar of white pine sap,
sip buttery milk gushing from the mountain spring.
Come join us here in natural harmony,
come fly with the deer and soar with the hawks,
come relish the joy of youth everlasting.

(Translated from the Naxi by Yang Fuquan)

Gue Gueq mondharpen

Meer info

Morchang uit Rajasthan (Noord-India)

De Langa-zigeuners zijn nomaden in de Thar-woestijn en leven ook in enkele grootstedelijke nederzettingen in Rajasthan (noordwesten van India). Zij noemen zichzelf de ‘verhalenhandhavers’. Hun verhalen gaan terug tot de tijd van Alexander de Grote. De Langa-zigeuners zijn professionele muzikanten. In hun context betekent dat dat het beroep van muzikant erfelijk overgedragen wordt. De morchang is hun mondharp. De morchang bewijst dat dit type mondharp niet alleen geschikt is om de lamel aan te slaan, maar uitstekend als blaasinstrument gebruikt kan worden, en in combinatie.

Murchancha Rajashthan

Deze mondharp is vervaardigd door meestersmid Gorka Ram. Puur handwerk waarbij geen machines aan te pas komen. Meer info op aanvraag.

Kalbelia woman

Reasons for inaccuracy

Mouth resonating organs are no physical organs as part of the human body, that’s no matter for doubt. However, the term jaw harp for a diverse assortment of mouth resonating organs played in deviating manners gives reasons for inaccuracy.

heteroglotte-mondharp Houten mondharpen Mondharpen_c[1]

In comparison: why do we differentiate in the names of stringed instruments like ukelele, lute, banjo, mandoline, bouzouki, saz, guitar, etc.?


Myths and legends of the symbolic key that opens the doors of our soul and mind.

There is no universal  answer to the question what exactly happiness means. It is one of the oldest philosophical mysteries of humankind – and each individual has to find his / her own answer to it. Diego Pascal Panarello is going on a humoristic and poetic road trip tracing back the origins of a small, unimpressive musical instrument that seems to be the key to personal happiness for countless people around the world.


After years drifting, Diego returns to Sicily. His dream of becoming a musician has not worked out. He has no job and no plans for the future but the sound of an ancient musical instrument, the mouth harp, points the way. From the torrid coasts of Sicily, Diego journeys to the frozen flatlands of Yakutia in Siberia where he becomes part of a prophecy from a century ago. The “sound of happiness” is at last there.


Director: Diego Pascal Panarello

Nominated for Goethe-Institut Documentary Film Prize

World premiere 1 november, 22:15 · DOK Leipzig Germany

Papua New Guinea Foi women playing bamboo jaw harps

Foi women playing the idioglottal bamboo dameno jew’s harp

Kundu and Digaso Festival, Daga Village, Lake Kutubu area, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Don Niles.

The Kutubu Kundu and Digaso Festival offers performances from all over the Southern Highlands of PNG, in rejoice of their incredible traditional culture.

Local tribes unite in support and respect of each others culture. Performers and participants travel from all over to cooperate in the ceremonial festivities each year close to the end of September.

Hudson’s Bay Company

Hudson’s Bay Company began exploring the eastern arctic from 1738 and onwards, Between their arrival and 1751 they traded almost 400 jaw harps and other bargain ware in returm for baleen from the bowhead whale (Barr, 1994). Contrary to expectation, the jaw harp has greater archaeological visibility than any other musical instrument in this arctic zone.

Hudson's Bay Company

In September 2017 Hudson’s Bay Company started to explore The Netherlands with warehouse products in return for valuta. It’s enduring visibility for the future might be a subject for next generations.



Jaw harps were introduced in the eastern arctic zone in the early eighteenth century. The jaw harp is most conveniently portable and ideally suited to the Inuit way of life. Despite the fact that large numbers of jaw harps have been in circulation in the eastern arctic zone (Barr 1994) imported to Hudson Strait by Hudson’s Bay Company ships for trade from 1738 and onwards, they are rarely mentioned in historical documents. Missionaries who systematically introduced Christianity to Alaska Natives in the latter part of the eighteenth century seem to have been hostile towards jaw harp practice.

Archaeological visibility
Perhaps because the jaw harp had become sidelined, it has remained almost indistinct in Inuit music research. Cavanagh (1982) mentions that jaw harps (along with harmonicas, ukuleles, and accordions) were present in several Netsilingmiut dwellings during her stay in the 1970s, but they have not figured in a striking way in any twentieth century musical practice. Contrary to expectation, the jaw harp has greater archaeological visibility than any other musical instrument in the eastern arctic zone (Gullason 1999).  Although they rarely survive intact, the simple bent metal frame is durable and recognizable, even if fragmented.

Musical qualities
In the dialect of Inuktitut the jaw harp is qanirvalauti or qanirvaluuti and qanirvalauqpuq is to play the jaw harp (Schneider 1985). The semantic association is with qaniq, mouth, and other words built from this stem. Jaw harp music is hardly availabe on distributed Arctic field recordings. An LP recorded at Povungituk, northern Quebec, in 1979 (Inuit Throat and Harp Songs: Eskimo Women’s Music of Povungnituk) includes ten jaw harp performances by Alasi Alasuak (Women of Povungnituk 1980). The pieces are short and often have funny titles (“Song About a Thumb”, “She Thinks She’s the Only Daughter”, etc). The liner notes give commentaries by the artist (“The person was making fun of another’s thumb.”, “The mother was telling her daughter that she was not the only daughter in the settlement, because she thought she was the only daughter for a long time.”). Alasuak is a gifted performer, and each piece is captivating.

An intriguing characteristic of jaw harp play is its acoustic resemblance to the katajjaq Inuit throat songs. In respect with other mouth resonated tools it also resembles the suluk (goose feather quilts), which seems to have been completely vanished (Tanya Tagaq 2017); a photograph of a woman playing a feather is found in the liner notes of Inuit Throat and Harp Songs). Although Inuit throat singing often dissolves in laughter, it is an refined vocal form, and can certainly be considered an art. In 2014 it was recognized as “intangible cultural heritage”, according to UNESCO guidelines. It is inescapable that throat singing sounds something like jaw harp play. Both produce a drone, a musical taste for which is believed to be one of the reasons the jaw harp became so popular in medieval Europe (Kolltveit 2009), and are more rhythmic than melodic. This acoustic resemblance must have been obvious to past practitioners, as their juxtaposition on the recording from Povungnituk suggests. Furthermore, both throat singing and jaw harp play were manageable to performance in the confined spaces of Inuit dwellings and dance houses.

For the Arctic communities in which she was working in the late 1970s Cavanagh noted how frequently Inuit performed music “in the private context of the family or when one is alone” (Cavanagh 1982). Similarly the jaw harp may have been important precisely because of its aptness as an accompaniment to the domestic “soundscape of the everyday” (King and Santiago 2011). It also resonated with the Inuit sensory world. The twang of the jaw harp recalls the harvesting and hunting before the advent of shotguns. Although at present a marginal instrument, the jaw harp appears to have been a meaningful part of Labrador Inuit house life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The shortage of documentary evidence relative to the clear archaeological trace is the inverse of the situation that obtains with most other musical instruments, by the informality and near invisibility of the jaw harp.

Arctic predecesor of the jaw harp: suluk

Inuit in the Arctic have created mouth resonating organized sounds with goose feather quilts (suluk) long before they obtained metal jaw harps from European fishermen and whalers. The practice of modulating sounds by vibrating a goose feather quilt not yet disappeared in the 1970’s.

Inuit Suluk Goose Feather Quilt

Photo by Nicole Beaudry, Inukjuaq, Arctic Québec (Canada) 1978.