Wealthy people of the Raglai group possess Ma La flat gongs, but poor Raglai people have the Chapi, a simple musical instrument that imitates the sound of the Ma La.
20 years ago the song “Chapi dream” by Tran Tien introduced the Chapi of the Raglai to the Kinh people. Since then the Chapi has been considered a symbol of the Raglai and tourists visit Raglai hamlets to learn about this unique musical instrument.
The song “Chapi dream” written by Tran Tien tells a story of life in high mountains, where people have no winter nor sunny or rainy season. There is only the love season. A couple lives peacefully in a plain stilt house. All poor people have a Chapi. People who love freedom should go to the mountain to listen to the Chapi.
The song draws a picture of a vast prairie and a nomad life, where people live harmoniously with nature. Many people wonder whether the “Chapi dream” is real. What does the Chapi musical instrument look like?
We visited Khanh Son mountain, Khanh Hoa province, the native land of the Chapi to see it with our own eyes. Mau Quoc Tien, a researcher of the Raglai culture, took us to Pi Nang Thuan, one of the very few Raglai people who can make a Chapi now.
He played his Chapi on a quiet summer afternoon and told us that only a few Raglai people can make and play the Chapi. He said a Chapi is made from the tube of Lô ô bamboo tube, a kind of bamboo that originated in India.
It should be a big tube with two joints and thin bark. It’s about 10cm in diameter and 30cm in length. He used a hot awl to make holes in the tube which will make sounds when the strings are struck.
Pi Nang Thuan said, “I’m making holes and finishing a Chapi. There are 6 holes. The two holes at the two ends create percussion or echo, while other holes produce melodies.”
The strings of the Chapi are made from the bark of the bamboo tube. Mr. Thuan carefully uses a knife to cut 12 strings for two groups with different tones. Tiny pieces of bamboo are pinned among the strings to adjust the sounds.
The “Chapi dream” says that when a Chapi is played, it expresses the inner feeling of the player.
Mau Quoc Tien noted, “Raglai people consider a Chapi to be a miniature Ma La. The Ma La is an indispensable musical instrument at all festivals. The Chapi, which has a similar sound, is small and easy to carry to the terraced fields. A woman can play a Chapi while carrying her child on her back. The Chapi is a variant of the Ma La.”
Villagers often gather around a fire to listen to old people tell stories of their groups and the golden days of the Chapi. They used to play the melody “A frog” on sad, rainy days.
When they forgot farm tools in the fields, they played the cheerful melody “Lost property” to inform other villagers. On dating nights, boys played romantic songs for girls.