Húlúsī (葫芦丝): A Chinese Musical Instrument

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Sunday, 26 July 2009
The húlúsī (葫芦丝) is a Chinese flute like instrument made from the gourd of the cucurbit plant. The hulusi is so named from húlú; a gourd and sī meaning silk.

This instrument is made of up to four bamboo pipes, which include brass or silver reeds, and is enclosed by a wind chamber. The Dai people also know the hulusi as the bilangdao. Often only one bamboo pipe will be used for the drone, whilst one is just for ornamental value.

The hulusi sounds similar to a clarinet and is often described as “hauntingly beautiful”. The soft tone makes it an ideal solo instrument, and is often used to accompany a singing voice.

The hulusi was originally used primarily in the Yunnan province by the Dai and other non-Han ethnic groups but is now played throughout China, and hulusi are manufactured in northern cities such as Tianjin.

There's a touching legend about the cucurbit flute among the Dai people. It is said that in the remote past, a young man of the Dai minority saved his sweetheart from a mountain flood by holding a big bottle gourd and rushing through the turbulent waves. His unswerving loyalty to love touched the Buddha, who inserted bamboo pipes into a gold bottle gourd and gave it to the brave man.

Holding up the gold bottle gourd, the man played beautiful music. All of a sudden, the torrential flood retreated, flowers came out and peacocks were spreading their tails. All things on earth seemed to be sending their good wishes to the lovers. Ever since then, the hulusi has been passed down from generation to generation among the Dai people.

The Dai people are versatile and skilled in singing and dancing. During festivals, they sing songs to the accompaniment of intoxicating hulusi tunes and the music can be heard everywhere. Popular hulusi pieces include Phoenix Tail Bamboo Under Moonlight & Deep within a Bamboo Forest. I include some examples below for you.

Photo Sources:

Flickr: mtbl
Flickr: laurajcole
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