Late instrument maker, who lifted himself out of proverb, taught villagers his craft
Village known for making musical instruments owes its heritage to one brave and persistent man.
Jiayi in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is a village of only 215 households, yet almost half make a living selling handmade musical instruments.
Known as “the village of heavenly music”, it has a long tradition of producing such instruments, a skill that has been passed on through the generations.
Its location on the north route of the ancient Silk Road has meant that this tradition has been shaped by Buddhist, Islamic and Chinese influences. At the core of the village lies an exhibition center, displaying the typical musical instruments played by various ethnic groups in Xinjiang throughout the last two millennia.
Of the 105 households who make musical instruments, most of them owe their livelihoods to master artisan Ismayil Yunus. He may have died more than a decade ago, but his legacy is his apprentices.
Yunus taught all the instrument makers in the village, according to Keram Kadir, a local craftsman.
Nurdi Ismayil, Yunus’ youngest son, said his father “had more than 30 disciples, all of whom are now in their 40s or 50s”.
He spoke while putting the finishing touches to a paint job on a type of classical string instrument called a tembor. As part of his efforts to continue his father’s legacy, Ismayil is also teaching the business to Ahmat Nurdi, his 13-year-old son.
Yunus first started making musical instruments as a poor man in his 20s, when an aunt came to visit and suggested he learn the craft to improve his circumstances.
After two years of study, he successfully made his first tembor. Gradually, the instruments he made started to sell for good money, according to Ismayil, helping Yunus to lift himself out of poverty, renovate his house and buy a motorcycle.
Instrument making is not an easy job, however. “The bottom half of a tembor is carved out of a single piece of wood,” said Rahman Turahun, a 45-year-old maker in the village.
“It takes both time and concentration, as a single minor mistake may ruin it all.”
Ayit Imin, a 58-year-old artisan dubbed “king of instruments” by his fellow villagers, said that it takes two people 15 days to make a tembor with carved patterns of moderate complexity.
“Up until now, I’ve had 40 apprentices, but I’ve also had many who dropped out halfway, for they were heart-stricken when they hear the poor sound made by the instruments that they had devoted so much time to,” Imin said.
1: Ayit Imin plays a tembor made by himself while his granddaughter dances at the village. 2: A statue showcases the tradition of musical instrument making at Jiayi village in Aksu, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. 3: A Jiayi villager makes an instrument at his home. 4: A shop sells traditional Uygur musical instruments at the village. PHOTOS BY MAO WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY