Chinese Plain Bamboo Bones
Kuai Ban: Ancient Chinese Rap Music
Play these Short Wide Bamboo Bones Like Regular Bones
I think I saw a video that showed a kuai ban performer playing these bamboo bones like regular musical bones, but I am not sure. If I run across
that video again I will post it here. But no matter. I can play them like regular bones, although they are a bit wide. And at least one long-time player bought a pair at Bones Fest XI in Wisconsin, so you know these clappers have some merit.
But here is the good news: Last year I ordered twenty pairs of these plain bamboo bones just to check them out. My supplier in China calls them si pan wa. Believe it or not, each pair of these plain si pan wa bones cost me more
than a full set of traditional kuai ban clappers (which sell here for $19.97). Well...sigh, I did the same thing again this year. Except this batch is an inch shorter than the ones they shipped last time - and there are no holes in them like the other ones. I cannot imagine a pair of these plain bamboo bones going for
twenty dollars plus. So I set what I think is a reasonable price on
them: Just $6.97 per pair. Yes, my loss is your gain.
Look, there is no
use crying over spilled milk, right? So here is your chance to pick up a cheap
set of rather unusual (if not rather short and wide) bamboo rhythm bones. And if you are thinking of grabbing a pair or two, don't put it off. Because when they're gone, they're gone.
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 pair 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 fully developed the art of kuai ban and become famous.
Be the first kid on your block to own a pair of genuine Chinese si pan wa bamboo bones! You can get traditional kuai ban bamboo and brass half-moon clappers at this store too. Order yours now.