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Chinese Traditional Bamboo Clappers--Kuai Ban
What is Kuai Ban?Kuai ban (pronounced "kwai bahr") is a unique folk art where storytellers accompany their own vocal performance with the rhythmic sound of bamboo or brass clappers.
The Father of Kuai Ban  The art form was developed by Li Runjie during the midst of World War II. An old friend of the Li family (and a virtouso kuai ban performer himself) is Liang Houmin. He explains that "Mr. Li was born into a poor farmer's family. He was apprenticed in Tianjin while still a youngster. By the time he reached 18, he was indentured by Japanese occupation forces to work in a coalmine as a miner. But he fled from the mine and began life as a beggar. No doubt, life then was miserable, yet, right at that time, he learned to play the "Shu Lai Bao", a rhythmic storytelling to the accompaniment of the clappers, played by beggars to make a living." Liang Houmin explains that by the 1950s Mr. Li had fully developed the art of kuai ban and become famous.
Kuaishu and kuaiban are both story-telling and singing with theatrical rhyming. However, they have slight differences.
Although they are both performed with the same form of reciting and singing with a strong rhythm, and the words of their songs are complete and regular verse. They differ in styles, dialects, rhymes and tunes. Kuaiban or kuaibanshu which developed on the basis of kuaiban is a form that relates stories with complex plots and creates typical figures. Its items generally are medium` and full-length ones. -I-he melodies` words usually adhere to a strict pattern of lines and rhymes. Kuaiban items are usually short, and tell stories of a strong, rational and sentimental nature. It has a comparable free approach to rhyme called huazhe, meaning that the rhyme can change within a section of verse. Both kuaishu and kuaibanshu adopt the sentence structure of the seven-word antithetical couplet. But in practice the sentence form is free as long as there is no contradiction in the rhyming during the recitals or songs, and adding or deducting words is allowed. Different styles and dialects of kuaishu exist in various places. So there are many types of tunes. Examples are Zhubanshu in Shandong, luogushu in Shanghai and Kuabanshu in Tianjin, but the most renowned and influential is Shandong kuaishu.
There are also various styles and dialects of huaiban such as shulaibao, shugh and Shaanxi kuaiban. Both kuaishu and kuaiban have a very simple form of performance. The actor usually stands to recite and sing, accompanied by the playing of a small percussion instrument which he holds in one hand. The items per formed by one actor or two to more than three actors are called solo, cross rhymed dialogue and group rhymed dialogue, respectively. The impromptu clapping instruments differ according to the types of melody. For instance, the Shandong kuaishu performer holds two small crescent-shaped bronze pieces in one hand, the manipulation of which is called yuanyangban. For shulaibao, a kind of clapper ballad, or kuathen, two pairs of bamboo clapping instruments are used, one big pair and one small pair, the former composed of two bamboo pieces, the latter, of five pieces. The pieces are held together by string. KuaiShu and kuaiban adopt the approaches of Chinese traditional poetry and rely on rhetorical skills such as parallelism, alliteration, rhyme, metaphor, harmony and ambiguity.
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