Lara Goes Local ⑦: Finding Folk Music

By Wu Ruolin, Lara Netherlands, Shi Junhao,Chen Yuanneng / HICN / Updated: 10:06,23-September-2021

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hainan’s traditions, customs and culture – you might think that an island as small as this one would have a single shared culture across the province. In reality, historic difficulties in terms of transportation have led to cultural differences not only between north and south, east and west, mountain and plain, but even between one village and another. 

In this episode our host, Lara, goes in search of unique local customs and some of the many special folk songs which can be found all over Hainan. As a result of her journey, she will share with you the profound musical sounds of Lingao’s Lilimei songs and Danzhou’s Diaosheng songs. 

Already a millennium old, the “Lilimei” song form has been inscribed at the national-level as part of China's intangible cultural heritage. The charming melody and the culturally significant lyrics carry not only meaning but also have strong local flavor. Lilimei is not only a wonderful piece of folk music, it is also China’s most fascinating fishing song.   

Children teaching Lara how to sing Lilimei.
Wu Ruolin

Written records of this piece of music can be traced back to the time of the Southern Song Dynasty (1131-1162). At that time, the people of Lingao County depended on fishing for their livelihood. After many years of excellent catches, the happy songs of fisherwomen hawking their wares in the streets at all hours gradually transformed into what we now know as “Lilimei”. Over time, the song was continually improvised on, but the main melody remained the same. From a fishmongers' way of attracting sales, it became a popular work tune among all the people involved in the fishing industry and eventually formed into the ballad it is today. 

Lara with Lingao woman and children.
Wu Ruolin

Danzhou Diaosheng (literally meaning “rhyming sounds) is a genre of ancient, traditional folk song and dance only found in Danzhou. The lyrics (which are mostly about the pursuit of love and the happiness of life) are sung in the local Cantonese influenced dialect. The lively rhythms and beautiful melodies of this musical style are a true treat for the ears! Danzhou Diaosheng is usually performed by young men and women dressed in brightly colored folk costumes, standing either in a circle or face to face in two rows.  The songs are accompanied by dance moves which include rhythmic hand waving, stepping, and swaying from side to side.

Danzhou Diaosheng's inheritor, Tang Baoshan, teaching Lara how to sing Danzhou Diaosheng.
Shi Junhao

While in Danzhou, Lara also took the opportunity to visit is the ancient salt fields at E’man. Tens of thousands of years ago a volcanic eruption created a bizarre rocky coastline with a protected intertidal zone which clever locals used to form large salt ponds and salt fields. Today, there are still around 55 hectares of salt fields in E'man.

Lara visiting E’man ancient salt fields. 
Shi Junhao

Exploring the various "off the beaten trail" places which this beautiful island has to offer is where you'll find the soul of Hainan. The vibrant cities of Haikou and Sanya might be the beating heart driving forward the development of the Free Trade Port, but it's these quiet places with their naïve customs that make Hainan unique and special. Whether you are going in search of folk songs (which, as any ethnomusicologist will tell you, are a rich carrier of local customs and culture) or beautiful scenery, these unfamiliar places are the ones truly worth visiting.



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