Heav­enly mu­sic

Late in­stru­ment maker, who lifted him­self out of proverb, taught vil­lagers his craft

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - ByMAO WEIHUA in Aksu, Xin­jiang maowei­hua@chi­nadaily.com.cn Liang Shuang con­trib­uted to this story.

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.

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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

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