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Singing as the Lisu's Second Language
Living mainly in southwest China's Yunnan Province, the Lisu ethnic group boasts a long history that possibly dates as far back as the Tang Dynasty, more than 1, 300 years ago. It was not until the middle of the 16th century that the Lisu migrated to the Nujiang River reaches in northwest Yunnan Province.

Singing could be described as the Lisu's second language. Indeed, one of their sayings declares that one cannot live without singing, just as one cannot live without salt. Folk songs have permeated almost every aspect of Lisu life and are usually performed spontaneously and in a narrative style.

A long period of development has seen the formation of four types of Lisu folk songs. Baishibai, a kind of antiphonal singing, is the most popular form among the Lisu. Two groups of singers will choose two singers to lead the chorus. Sometimes the singers will also dance while singing, creating a delightful musical dialogue. Muguabu and Youyeye are two types that are played out to slower rhythms. The former is generally sung by older people, while the latter is always performed in a sad, melancholy manner. The Guamushu is brisk and melodious, and is an especial favorite of girls wishing to express their love and feelings.

One distinctive feature of Lisu folk songs is their melody, which although inharmonious, still possesses a certain unique aesthetic value. Modern musicians have captured this characteristic well, and created this piece of music.

Singing is the favorite art form of the Lisu people, but they still retain a primitive dance that imitates the movements of various animals, like birds, beasts, insects and fish. On nights during the slack season, people will gather around the bonfire, dancing to the strains of the pipa.

Even when people dance while working, the theme is still connected with animals. The contents of the dance are so diverse that almost every kind of animal can be depicted in it. They present to us a beautiful picture of man and nature coexisting harmoniously in the world. This concept has also inspired some musicians to compose music illustrating the lives of the people who inhabit the mountainous areas by the Nujiang River.

(cri.com.cn July 16, 2002)

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