Senior revives island's unique sound

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For the Spring Festival holiday, Huang Zihe and his troupe visited various venues and performed Hainan bayin, a traditional music style in South China's Hainan province.

The 86-year-old Huang says he feels lucky to be able to pass on the traditional bayin art. "I do hope that children will bring the music style to more people overseas."

The "Hainan eight tunes" refer to the eight types of musical instruments made of materials cultivated in Hainan, such as coconut shells and Chinese rosewood. It also refers to the bayin music style created with the instrument.

In Hainan, more than 500 bayin scores exist, recording local people's daily lives and traditional culture.

Bayin troupes usually perform at weddings, funerals and occasions when offering sacrifices in northern Hainan. During the peak of its popularity, almost all villages had their own bayin troupes.

Hainan bayin enjoyed popularity for almost 1,000 years. However, in recent decades, its popularity waned. As people left their hometowns, fewer people listened, and there are fewer bayin music creators.

Huang started learning bayin music at a young age.

"I learned how to play bayin from a master in the neighboring village," he says. "I learned to play different types of musical instruments when I was a kid."

Huang later became a professional musician at the provincial opera house. After spending decades in the industry, Huang retired and later settled in Australia.

In 2008, he saw a news story that reported bayin being listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in China and the dire need for attention to be paid to the musical style due to a lack of professional teachers. Huang, who was teaching foreign students about bayin, became anxious.

"Hainan bayin was quite popular with people in Australia and many wanted to learn the art," he says.

"So when I saw the story, I was determined to help pass on the bayin culture in my hometown."

Huang decided to come back to Hainan and became a volunteer at a local cultural center in the provincial capital, Haikou.

He also went to parks to teach elderly citizens how to play bayin. He offered the musical instrument for free and taught people the playing techniques.

"I realized that we lacked young people in this industry," he says.

Huang invited local students to the cultural center to learn the instrument.

The students learned to perform within a year and their performances were quite popular with the parents and teachers.

In recent years, authorities have provided more subsidies and established cultural centers to pass on traditional arts.

Huang has developed different methods to teach elderly students and those from primary schools.

"For the elderly, they need to learn the basics quickly. You need to give them a sense of achievement when they practice," Huang says. "For the children, I usually incorporate bayin music with nursery rhymes, so that they find it interesting."

Ouyang Ziyi, a primary school student, has been learning the instrument from Huang for three years. His parents are supportive.

"Bayin is a local musical style, and it is charming," Ziyi says.

"I believe more people will fall in love with our folk music in the future."

In 2019, Huang took his bayin troupe to Singapore and Malaysia. Their performances touched the hearts of many overseas Chinese who are originally from Hainan.

"When they heard the familiar tunes, they were overwhelmed," Huang says. "Some sobbed, and some cried out loud."

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