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The Sai Ding: The Musical Heartbeat of the Blang People

Last Updated on 2023/11/25

The Sai Ding (赛玎), also known as the Blang Qin (布朗玎) in Han Chinese, is a plucked string instrument integral to the Blang ethnic group. The Blang, one of China’s ancient ethnic minorities, were originally called “Pu” (濮), then “Puzi Man” (朴子蛮) during the Tang and Song dynasties, and later “Pu Man” (蒲蛮). They have coexisted peacefully with the Dai people, sharing languages and scripts, and practice Theravada Buddhism. Predominantly agriculturalists and tea cultivators, the Blang culture is deeply influenced by the Dai, reflected in their rich tradition of songs and dances like “Tiao Ge” (跳歌), “Duan Gu Wu” (短鼓舞), and “Chang Gu Wu” (长鼓舞).

Design and Craftsmanship

The traditional Sai Ding resembles the Ruan in appearance, consisting of various parts such as a resonance box, neck, tuning pegs, bridge, and strings. It’s generally 70-90 cm in length. Crafted from a single block of wood known locally as “Dai Duo” (傣多), it features a resonating box often made in shapes like flat oval, peach, winter melon, or round-bottomed. The dimensions of the box typically range from 23-32 cm in length, 20-26 cm in width, and 5-8 cm in thickness. Modern Sai Ding instruments might use red Ailanthus, fragrant Ailanthus, yellow mulberry, or Phoebe nanmu wood, with the soundboard crafted from wood cotton, pine, fir, or thin bamboo.

The neck, extending into a headstock, is made from the same wood as the frame. The headstock is simple in design, often rectangular with a flat top, featuring traditional patterns or carvings. Four tuning pegs (two on each side) are made from red or yellow mulberry wood. The neck is broad, half-cylindrical, tapering towards the top, with 3-5 wooden frets. The strings, originally made from copper wire and later from steel, are attached to a colored silk strap.

Regional Variations

  • Menghai County’s Daluo Sai Ding: 80 cm long with a winter melon-shaped resonating box measuring 27 x 20 x 5.5 cm. The neck is 28 cm long with three frets.
  • Menghai County’s Xiding Sai Ding: Similar in shape to the Han Chinese Sanxian, with larger dimensions. The body is 92 cm long, and the resonating box is crafted from red Ailanthus wood.
  • Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture’s Modified Sai Ding: A shorter neck version, 69 cm in total length. The resonating box is made from fragrant Ailanthus wood, and the instrument features 10 circular sound holes on the soundboard.

Playing Technique

The Sai Ding is played with a strap over the shoulder, with the neck across the chest and the resonating box at the right waist. The left hand presses the strings while the right hand plucks them using picks made from buffalo horn, bamboo, or plastic. The strings are often tuned in perfect fourths, with a range of over one octave. Its clear and melodious sound makes it suitable for solo performances or accompanying folk songs and dances.

Cultural Significance

In Menghai’s Blang mountains, boys learn to play the Sai Ding and sing love songs after leaving Buddhist monasteries at fifteen. Almost every household owns a Sai Ding, and it’s common for young men to serenade their beloveds with it. Famous solo pieces from the Daluo region include “Ke Li Ke Luo” (克里克罗), and other notable songs are “Shuo Se Ka” (说色卡), “Qing Diao” (情调), and “Suo” (索). The Sai Ding is not just a musical instrument but a vital part of the Blang’s cultural and romantic expressions, playing a central role in their love songs and festive dances.

Featured image: Sohu
Source: Baike Baidu

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