Brendan Power

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New Chinese Harmonica

View ALBUM SAMPLER VIDEO (with beautiful nature photography by Jodie Randall


The most characteristic harmonica sound we hear today is the blues-harp style, developed by the Afro-Americans. It uses soulful note bending to give that bluesy wailing sound we all associate with the harp. You often hear it in contemporary American styles like Blues, Jazz, Country and Rock.

However the free-reed that makes the sound in harmonicas is thousands of years old, first documented in ancient Chinese literature. It has long been used in traditional Chinese folk instruments like the Hulusi, Bawu, Sheng etc. It went to the West (probably with Marco Polo) and was eventually incorporated in new free-reed instruments (reed organs, harmonicas, accordions, concertinas etc) in the 19th century. So the modern harmonica is essentially a Chinese/Western fusion instrument.

I got hooked on the gorgeous sound of Chinese traditional music a while ago, and wanted to play it myself. However, I discovered that no harmonicas made so far can play Chinese music in an authentic manner. They cannot bend the notes in the right scales or with the same expression as the Hulusi or the Erhu (the highly expressive Chinese two-string fiddle)

I realised that I'd have to create entirely new harps if I wanted to adapt the Western 'bluesy' style to play with the right expression and correct pitch bending of Chinese music. After much experimentation I developed several new harmonicas that work for Chinese music. I got such a buzz when the first Hulusi/Erhu-type sounds came out!

This album of my interpretations of classic Chinese folk tunes is the result of that exploration. It shows that modern harmonicas can play traditional Chinese music with all the right inflections, while adding a fresh tonality that sounds just right for the music. Truly, in every sense: they are made for each other!

In a small way I feel I'm completing a circle that started thousands of years ago: adapting the modern harmonica to play the music of the birthplace of the free-reed in an authentic, sympathetic manner. A continuation of the Chinese/Western fusion that started when the Chinese free-reed first made it to the West.
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