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Hulusi with two drones and bell
Hulusi or Bilangdao

The hulusi is a single pipe free-reed instrument found in Yunnan, China that is related to the Chinese bawu, the Thai pi joom, and numerous other instruments like the dja mblai found through Vietnam and Laos. The hulusi is made of one to four bamboo pipes that have a small brass or silver reed inserted flush with the side of the pipe, and then surrounded by a gourd or brass (on modern instruments) wind chamber.

The hulusi originally came from the Dai-zu or Dai (Thai) minority of southern China, but can now be found played by a number of the surrounding minority peoples including the Jin Po and the Wa. The name hulusi is a Han term with "hulu" meaning gourd, while the Dai call it a bilangdao, which literally translates as "an end blown pi, surrounded by a gourd".

Single pipe hulusi are rare, with two or three pipe instruments being the most common. One pipe is a melody pipe with seven holes, including the thumbhole, and the other pipes are drone pipes, which are sometimes stopped with bits of wax or cloth. In 1958, a fourteen-note version was invented, and in the 1970's a version with two melody pipes, tuned a fourth apart, was invented. The instrument on the left has two drones while the instrument on the right only has one.

The sound of the hulusi is hauntingly beautiful, but fairly soft, and as a result is seldom played in ensembles. The Dai men would play it to express their love to women, while other minorities often played the hulusi in the fields when taking a break from planting or harvesting.

Country: China
Region: Asia
Type: Free-reed

Hulusi - free reed pipe from southern China
©  R. Raine-Reusch, Jan. 2002