Chinese style banjos

Fretless long-necked lute (Lisu tseubeu; Black Lahu saemu; Akha deuham; also played by the Kokang and Wa)

The same instrument is used by the groups mentioned above, the music, however, being different. The instrument has three strings. The soundboard is traditionally made from python or monitor lizard skin; modern ones often use plastic. A pattern of holes is cut in the wooden back. It is plucked with a plectrum, traditionally made of the tip of a buffalo horn; nowadays it is sometimes made of plastic or wood. Strings used are now normally guitar strings (no 1). The instrument ranges in size from around 60 cms to over 90 cms. The Lisu and Lahu have several tunings, each associated with a particular repertoire. Some common tunings are: ADa, Dda, CDa, AEa. Most competent tseubeu players would have a repertoire of around 30 ‘tunes’. It is played rhythmically with frequent 2 or 3 note chords. One string plays the melody, the others provide drones. Melodies are characterized by frequent sliding notes.

The Lisu tseubeu is one of the two instruments most commonly used to accompany dancing, especially at the New Year festivities, and most Lisu villages will have at least one player.  Players are expected to play for up to 3 hours (occasionally more) non stop, the tseubeu playing chords to mark the rhythm with strong beats. Sometimes several tseubeu players will join together; it may also play alongside free reed instrument players or accompany singing. It is less common in Akha music though traditionally it was used as a courting instrument to accompany a singer.

Kokang banjo player

Lisu tseubeu maker

Wa banjo player

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