As a famous travel destination in China, Zhangjiajie is known for its beautiful scenery. But few people know there lies a small county named Sangzhi, where local people are expert singers and dancers. The people kept their authentic musical style for centuries.
Located at the interior of Wuling mountain range, Sangzhi district was inhabited by 17 minority ethnic groups, including the Tu and Miao people for more than 100,000 years. It boasts a beautiful scenic view with surrounding mountains and numerous babbling brooks.
For centuries, Sangzhi people lived a relatively isolated life and accumulated rich cultural resources, including Sangzhi Folk Song. The folk song originated during working hours and was a method of communication and expression of personal emotion.
Sangzhi people have the instinct to sing, especially from the high mountains.
“If you stand on this mountain, I stand on the opposite one. There’s a long distance between us and we can’t see each other, but we can communicate by singing loudly.” Song Haixia, a Sangzhi local explains.
This is a typical antiphonal singing by a group of Sangzhi youth. It expresses the adoration between young men and women in a question and answer mode. There’s a loud holler at the end of the song, which is one of the characteristics of Sangzhi Folk Song.
“Sangzhi Folk Song is featured by the ornamental words in the lyrics and the holler at the end which are very unique and vivacious. They originated from our dialect.”
Three lines usually compose typical Sangzhi folk songs, which is different to most traditional folk songs in China. It’s a manifestation of Sangzhi’s worship to the number “three”. The lyrics of Sangzhi Folk Song mainly focus on the beautiful scenery and sincere intimacy between lovers. People usually compose the melody and create lyrics when working in the field or meeting an ideal mate.
Here is another Sangzhi Folk Song by a local singer Zhao Qunjin.
The lyrics go like this. I am gathering firewood on a high mountain, when I see a girl who is washing clothes by the river at the foot of the mountain.
“This is Sangzhi men’s unique way to woo girls. If the girl heard the song, she would answer by singing the same tune.”
Here is the girl’s answer.
Sangzhi Folk Songs’ infectious enthusiasm and beautiful melody impressed many. In 2003, famous Hunan-based folk song singer Song Zuying successfully performed at the Golden Hall of Vienna. A Sangzhi Folk Song named “Lamp stand on the Masang Tree” was one of the highlights of the show.
Now, Sangzhi Folk Song is an Intangible Cultural Heritage in China, and is a required course in middle and primary schools in Sangzhi County. With lasting charms, Sangzhi people hope their songs will spread to other places and be appreciated by more people.