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Jiaohu: The Two-Stringed Fiddle Revered by Gelao, Miao, and Dong Peoples

Last Updated on 2023/11/29

Jiaohu (角胡) – Traditional Chinese Fiddle

Jiaohu (角胡) is a distinctive two-stringed fiddle, integral to the musical traditions of the Gelao, Miao, and Dong ethnic groups in Guangxi, China. Known among the Gelao people as “博角尼,” which translates to a violin made from ox horn, Jiaohu is also referred to as the “牛角琴” (Ox Horn Violin). This instrument is especially prevalent in the regions of Longlin, Rongshui, and Sanjiang within the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Design and Construction

The Jiaohu bears a close resemblance to another Chinese fiddle, the “马骨胡.” It features a neck made from hard miscellaneous wood, often crafted from the highly durable hexagonal Jinmu, measuring about 70 centimeters in length. The top of the neck is typically adorned with a carved ox head (图), while the lower part is horizontally set with two tuning pegs. These pegs are made of wood, spindle-shaped, about 14 centimeters long, and are set parallel to the body of the instrument.

The neck of the Jiaohu is cylindrical, tapering from a thicker upper part to a thinner lower end. It is equipped with a silk-threaded Jinjin in the middle, with the lower end inserted into the body of the instrument and visibly tied with strings. The body is made from ordinary buffalo horn, approximately 20 centimeters in length. The wider end of the horn serves as the front mouth of the instrument, covered with snake skin that has a diameter of 6 to 7 centimeters. The point of the horn is upward, fitted with several small sound holes along its midsection. The Jiaohu is strung with two silk or steel strings, with a bamboo or wooden bridge placed in the center of the skin-covered end. A bow made from golden bamboo and horse tail hair, about 60 centimeters in length, is used for playing.

Playing Technique

The Jiaohu is played in a seated position, with the body of the instrument resting on the player’s left leg. The left hand holds and presses the strings on the neck, while the right hand uses the horsehair bow to play between the two strings. The instrument is tuned to a fifth interval, with strings tuned to a1 and e2, covering a range from a1 to a3, spanning two octaves. The Jiaohu is known for its high-pitched, crisp, and bright sound. It is commonly played using short, brisk bowing techniques, similar to those used in playing the Erhu (二胡).

Musical Context and Repertoire

The Jiaohu is often featured in the Gelao ethnic group’s Baxian (八仙, Eight Immortals) music ensemble, where it plays a leading or solo role. It is a staple in ensemble performances and is commonly heard during festive occasions like festivals, weddings, and celebratory events.

Some of the principal traditional pieces played on the Jiaohu include:

  • “开门” (Kai Men)
  • “贺寿” (He Shou)
  • “过场” (Guo Chang)
  • “走马” (Zou Ma)
  • “八板” (Ba Ban)
  • “流水” (Liu Shui)
  • “拜堂” (Bai Tang)

These compositions are characterized by their simplicity and elegance, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the ethnic communities in Guangxi.

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