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Tuhu: A Cultural Icon of Zhuang Music

Last Updated on 2023/12/05

The Tuhu’s Distinctive Design and Cultural Significance.

Tuhu, also known as 土胡, is a traditional two-stringed fiddle originating from the Zhuang people in Guangxi, China. It is also referred to as 母胡 (Mother Hu) or 厚胡 (Thick Hu) in folk contexts. The instrument is notable for its deep and resonant mid-tones, often used in conjunction with the Ma Gu Hu, another stringed instrument, to create a harmonious sound.

Structure and Design

The Tuhu is uniquely crafted, predominantly by local artisans using locally sourced materials. Its structure is distinct, featuring a semi-spherical body made from a dried gourd, which is either a single large gourd or two halves joined together. The body measures approximately 8-10 cm in length and 12-16 cm in diameter at its widest point. The front of the gourd is covered with snake skin, and the back often features a five-pointed star or petal-shaped sound hole.

The neck and head of the Tuhu are made from a single piece of red Chinaberry wood, mulberry wood, or pine, measuring 80-90 cm in total length. The head of the Tuhu, similar to that of the Sanxian, has a square column shape with a slight backward bend at the top and a rectangular groove for the strings. The tuning pegs are wooden, conical, and decorated with straight grooves.

This instrument is strung with two metal or silk strings, and includes a wooden bridge and a unique support at the bottom. The bow, about 70 cm in length, is made from bamboo or Huoguo wood, strung with horsehair.

Playing Technique

The Tuhu is played in a seated position, with the body of the instrument resting on the left leg or between the knees. The player holds the neck upright and uses the index, middle, ring, and little fingers of the left hand to press the strings. The right hand holds the bow, which is coated with rosin and played between the two strings. The Tuhu is tuned to a fifth interval, typically to the notes a, e1, or d1, a1, with a playing range of two octaves from a to a2. Its solid sound and rich timbre classify it as a mid-range bowed string instrument.

Role in Ensemble and Music

In Zhuang opera and the Zhuang “Ba Yin” (eight sounds) ensemble, the Tuhu plays a significant role. It is often paired with the higher-pitched Ma Gu Hu, where the Tuhu provides a deeper, richer counterpoint. When used in orchestras, two Tuhus may be tuned differently, known as “Zheng Hu” and “Fan Hu.” The Tuhu is adept at playing smooth, lyrical melodies, often in the same repertoire as the Ma Gu Hu. A notable piece performed in octave unison with the Ma Gu Hu is “Guai Hai Lie,” exemplifying the instrument’s expressive capabilities.

Development and Challenges

The Tuhu, along with the Ma Gu Hu and Sanxian, forms an essential part of the accompaniment in Zhuang opera, known as the “three major pieces.” Despite their significance, these instruments face challenges in modern times, particularly in terms of formal education and professional training. In recent years, efforts have been made to encourage students with a good sense of music to learn the Tuhu and other traditional instruments, with retired musicians providing one-on-one guidance. This initiative aims to preserve and promote the rich heritage of Tuhu music.

Source: Baike Baidu

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