Saturday, September 6, 2008


The ''suona'' ; also called ''laba'' or ''haidi'' is a Han Chinese shawm . It has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and is used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly those that perform outdoors. It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called ''chuida'' or ''guchui''.


The ''suona'' has a conical wooden body, similar to that of the European oboe, but uses a tubular brass or copper bocal to which a small double reed is affixed, and possesses a detachable metal bell at its end.

The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, "modernized" versions of the suona have been developed in China; such instruments have keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning . There is now a family of such instruments, including the ''zhongyin suona'', ''cizhongyin suona'', and ''diyin suona''. These instruments are used in the woodwind sections of modern large in China, Taiwan, and Singapore, though most folk ensembles prefer to use the traditional version of the instrument. Chinese rock musician Cui Jian featured a modernized suona in his song ''Nothing to My Name'' .

The ''nazi'' , a related instrument that is most commonly used in northern China, consists of a ''suona'' reed that is played melodically, the pitches changed by the mouth and hands. Sometimes the ''nazi'' is played into a large metal horn for additional volume.


The ''suona'' is believed to have been developed from instruments such as the ''sorna'', ''surnay'', or ''zurna'', from which its Chinese name probably derives. It was originally introduced into China from central or western Asia. A musician playing an instrument very similar to a ''suona'' is shown on a drawing on a Silk Road religious monument in western Xinjiang province dated to the 3rd to 5th centuries, and depictions dating to this period found in Shandong and other regions of northern China depict it being played in military processions, sometimes on horseback. It was not mentioned in Chinese literature until the Ming Dynasty , but by this time the ''suona'' was already established in northern China.

Use outside China

In Korea, a similar instrument is called '''', and in Vietnam similar oboes are called ''kèn''.

In Japan, a similar instrument is called ''charumera''. This instrument's name is derived from ''charamela'', the Portuguese word for shawm. Its sound is well known throughout Japan, as it is often used by street vendors selling ramen.

The ''suona'' is also used as a traditional instrument in Cuba, having been introduced by Chinese immigrants during the colonial era. It is known there as ''trompeta china'' and is used in some forms of ''son'' and carnival music.

The American jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman often played the ''suona'' in his performances, calling it a "musette."

Notable performers

*Liu Qi-Chao
*Liu Yuan , saxophonist with Cui Jian's band, who trained on the ''suona'' at the Beijing Art School, and who used the instrument on Cui's 1994 album ''Balls Under the Red Flag''
*Song Baocai


* Click the image of the headphones to play a track.

No comments: