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Kam Grand Choirs, UNESCO Heritage in Guizhou

With history dating back to the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC), the over 2500-year-old Kam Grand Choirs(Gal Laox or Grand Song) is a multipart polyphonic choir singing unique to the Dong nationality who mainly dwells in southwest China. As the only polyphonic choir singing in China, it is another lesser-known but unbelievably marvelous art which squeeze its way into the modern world. In 1986, its sensational debut in Paris was applauded fervently and had stirred great curiosity towards this mysterious tribe.The heavenly voices, the enchanting rhythms and the melodious tunes are so captivating and pure that can evoke our vision to paradise. In 2009, it was included by the UNESCO as a world-class intangible cultural heritage.

Liping County which shelters Zhaoxing Dong Village, the largest Dong Village in China, is the cradle of Kam Grand Choir. A deep-rooted motto which still dominates their society goes like this: “Music nourishes the mind just like food noursishes the body”. Lack of written language, Dong people use songs to record their culture, history and wisdom as well as to express their love, friendship and opinions. In their culture, songs can nurture mind and cultivate character, hence, the more songs a person has mastered, the more well-educated he(she) is. As the quintessential of Dong folk songs and a prominent symbol of Dong ethnic identity , Kam Grand Choirs not only highlights Dong people’s culture, tradition, philosophy and lifestyle, but also shoulders the mission to preserve and spread them. Thus, it holds the irreplaceable status.

The emergence of Kam Grand Choirs can be attributed to nature and culture. Baptized by the mixture of fabulous sounds abound in nature: the mowing cows, the chirping birds, the clamorous orchestra of insects, the whispering winds and the splashing streams and waterfalls, Dong people were inspired to compose songs in the idyllic surroundings, the forerunner of Kan Grand Choirs. Under the joint influences of the Dong people’s courtesy customs, sing competition customs, etiquette, oral language which boasts 9 tones as well as music instruments inspired by nature and have the most complete and subtle notes, Kan Grand Choirs evolves into a mature art form with unraveled splendor.

Features of Kam Grand Choirs: the sound of harmony and nature

Kam Grand Choirs is a polyphonic choir singing without conductor and accompanying orchestra. The massive use of sound from nature is one of its key features. A complete Kam Grand Choirs song consists of a prelude, one main body made of several sections and an ending.

Different with other chorus, Kam Grand Choirs only comprises the solo singing done by sopranos and the bass section done by the majority. The main melody lies in the bass section, with the soprano section as its derivative products. Since bass section is sung by the majority, the sound is overwhelming, while the soprano section performed by one sorprano to three sopranos spontaneously, is more innovative, refreshing and striking. Sometimes, soprano section can be the main melody.

Kam Grand Choirs is only staged during main festivals and grand occasions. Hence, you will have more chance to enjoy this music during Dong New Year Festival, Eating Nice Rice Festival, Chines New Year Festival and Dong Wedding ceremonies or in the presence of distinguished guests. Kam Grand Choirs is usually performed within drum towers. Just like other social activities, Kam Grand Choirs  brings people together and helps them to find true love.

Dong people are born singers and dancers, and Dong villages are reputed as the ocean of songs and festivals. As the sound of nature and harmony, Kam Grand Choirs praises love, labor and friendship, thus, where there is Kam Grand Choirs, there is happiness, virtue and peace. There exists one interesting phenomenon: if one Dong village has no Kam Grand Choirs, marriage will be a headache for young men there for girls will refuse their proposals without hesitation.

Main categories of Kam Grand Choirs

Based on different styles, melodies and contents, Kam Grand Choirs splits into four main categories:Gating, Gama, GaXiang and Gaji. By age and gender, Kam Grand Choirs falls into Male Choirs,Female Choirs and Children Choirs.

Gating (Choirs of Sound): it is the essential part of Kam Grand Choirs. Featuring undulating melody, elegant voice and brief lyrics , Gating is performed by several sopranos and the mass of other Dong singers in a chorus. The voices of birds,insects and the running streams are absorbed into these songs with names devoting to them correspondingly. For instance, Cicada Song, is a fine example. Gating is the most effective way to test one orchestra’s ability, and it can be performed within drum towers, near the fireplace and corridors.

Gama(Romance Choirs): themed with love, it features slow tune and affectionate voices, which is very touching

Gaxiang(Choirs of Morality): themed with praising the virtues and criticizing the inappropriate behaviors, Gaxiang is used to educate, enlighten and console Dong people. Gaxiang boast even tune, and focuses on the expression of lyrics.

Gaji( Narrative Choirs): Characterized by melancholic, slow and soothing tunes, Gaji focuses on dialogue and plot. With lengthy lyrics and complicated plot, Gaji poses as a great challenge to performers in terms of memory and facial expressions. Leaded by one soprano, the rest of the orchestra will perform the bass section of the choirs.

How to building a chorus

To build a Kam Grand Choirs chorus is an art.  Dong people of all genders will be educated within drum towers, then those talented ones aging from 5 to 30 years’ old will be selected to form a chorus. At least three singers are needed to establish such a chorus. With sizes ranging from three to over one dozen members, Kam Grand Choirs choruses are grouped into by age and gender. People sharing the same family name are not allowed to engaging in etiquette singing activities. Under two conditions, these well-chosen talents will quit: 1 they get married 2 they are aging to the 30s. Thus, to train and select enough young members as back-ups becomes an unwritten rule. Practicing singing since childhood ensures the success and continuousness of Kam Grand Choirs. By now, almost each Dong village has at least one chorus, and some even boast dozens of.

Travel Tips

The center hub of Kam Grand Choirs: South area of Liping county, north of Congjiang County and Rongjiang Couty

Representative Works: Yelao Song, Gagaosheng, Gayinye, Gaxi《耶老歌》、《嘎高胜》、《嘎音也》、《嘎戏》

Other main art forms of Dong People: Pipa Song, Dong Opera, Duoye, Lusheng Dance


Vedio of Cicada Song



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