Hmong metal mouth harp

Hmong nya (metal mouth harp), Mien gen chin

Metal mouth harps are also played by the Lisu and Khamu but I have not found any instruments.

The Hmong instrument is made of a single sheet of brass, whose thickness varies from handle to tip. the blade often thins down to less than a millimeter. The tongue and the frame are separated by a hairline incision, which typically outlines three points. The central point is the longest, ending near the handle, and the base of the tongue is closest to the tip, which is strummed. Sometimes there are two tongues for extra volume. The instrument is played by putting the thin metal blade of the instrument up against, and between the upper, and lower lips, (unlike Western mouth harps, which are played between the teeth) and plucking the blade to produce vibrations. The vibrations of the blade manipulate the lip and mouth cavity to produce a kind of masked combination of speech and music.

The mouth harp as a speech surrogate is best seen in the Hmong ncas, which can communicate all the Hmong vowels and some consonants.

“A boy would come to the house of a girl in the night and the two would pass the ncas back and forth through the holes in the bedroom wall. The quiet tone of the instrument allowed for long romantic conversations without waking the rest of her family.” In one tune the player declares his love and promises to jump across the widest river to be with his beloved. The bamboo cases that house the instrument are not only for physical protection but to ward off evil spirits that might harm the instrument and the player.

Hmong musician Chiang Mai

Hmong musician Fang

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One Response “Hmong metal mouth harp” →

  1. Kazoua vaj

    March 17, 2012

    Where can I buy one of these??

    Reply

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