Chinese Brass Half-moon Clappers
Kuai Ban: Ancient Chinese Rap Music
What is Kuai Ban?
Kuai ban (pronounced "kwai bahr") is a unique folk art where storytellers accompany their own vocal performance with
the rhythmic sound of bamboo or brass clappers.
are, if you get a set of kuai ban clappers, you will skip the storytelling business. But
there is no telling what marvelous rhythmic innovations
you will come up with when you experiment with these exotic percussion instruments. This is
a true golden opportunity to create original new percussive inventions in Western music.
Bones in Ancient China
Some folks say musical bones were played in ancient China. Here are three references.
1. This first reference is from a report published in the Rhythm Bones Player (vol 5, no 1, 2003). The report cites a reference from the minstrel era:
The Harper's New Monthly Magazine article titled The Ancestry of Brudder Bones appearing in the 1878-9 issue states that bones were among the musical instruments of Chinese Emperor Fon Hi the first. The date was around 3500 B.C.
Steve Brown is the director of the Rhythm Bones Society. Steve is also the only
two-time consecutive All-Ireland Bones Playing Championship winner from America. He cites this reference in his
article entitled The Bones, which appears on the Drum Dojo website:
The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians in a brief listing on the bones states, "The bones were played in China before 3000 BC, in Egypt around that date, and in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and medieval Europe."
3. My nephew has lived in China around ten years. I recently asked if he ever saw musical bones there. Here is what he told me:
Well, I have seen bones here. They are used to accompany a "rapper" as he tells a sort of rhyming story. The art is from Shandong province (literally Mountain East) and is hundreds of years old. It's called "kuai ban" in Mandarin which literally means fast clacker or "kuai shu" which means fast tales.
So there you have it. Three references (obscure as they might be) to bone playing in ancient China. And yes, folks do play bones in China now. But kuai ban is quite different from bone playing in the Western world.
The Father of Kuai Ban
The art form was developed by Li Runjie during the midst of World War II. An old friend of the Li family (and a virtouso kuai ban
performer himself) is Liang Houmin. He explains that "Mr. Li was born into a poor farmer's
family. He was apprenticed in Tianjin while still a youngster. By the
time he reached 18, he was indentured by Japanese occupation forces to
work in a coalmine as a miner. But he fled from the mine and began life
as a beggar. No doubt, life then was miserable, yet, right at that
time, he learned to play the "Shu Lai Bao", a rhythmic story telling to
the accompaniment of the clappers, played by beggars to make a living." Liang Houmin explains that by the 1950s Mr. Li had perfected the art of kuai ban and become famous.
Brass Clappers Ring Like Bells
It takes a while to get the knack of it, but with a little practice you can make these brass clappers ring like bells. Or you can just grip them in your usual style and rattle them like bones. Either way is pretty cool.
You can hear that bell sound at the beginning of the video below. Then stick around to observe students learn the intricacies of this specialized form of kuai ban with brass half-moon clappers.
Watch video 15:22 minutes
Watch video w/supporting English text
Full screen/Large screen
Be the first kid on your block to own a pair of genuine Chinese brass half-moon kuai ban clappers! You can get both traditional bamboo and brass half-moon clappers at this store. Order yours now.