The Raglai music instrument Chapi

The chapi is the music instrument of the Raglai ethnic people. There are around 122,000 Raglai people, living in 18 out of its 63 cities and provinces. They live in large numbers in the provinces of Ninh Thuan.

Perhaps whoever comes to visit the Raglai would ask to see the chapi, because it gave composer Tran Tien the inspiration to write ‘Chapi Dream’ with its simple and sincere (but still tormenting) words: ‘Up there, they live a peaceful life/ Even the poorest has a chapi/ When the strings touched, the tune fills the Raglai hearts…’

The chapi is made of a section of an old bamboo, normally about 30-35 centimetres in length, eight centimetres in diameter. It’s an instrument unique to the Raglai, but very popular among them. It is their life’s company deep in the mountains.

The song draws a picture of a vast prairie and a nomad life, where people live harmoniously with nature. Many people wonder whether the “Chapi dream” is real. The chapi has been around for a long time. It is the soul of the Raglai, but it is on the verge of falling into oblivion because those who can play and make the instrument are old now, while the younger generations are not interested in the traditional instrument and say the chapi is not exciting.

The chapi tunes, low and high, carry the Raglai love to the forests and mountains and give them a human soul. It takes the craftsmanship and passion of the maker and the innermost vibration of the player’s heart to the heights and depths of the void.

The Raglai consider the chapi a reduced ma la, which can be played by just one person and is easy to carry. To them, ma la is the most important instrument, which plays a role in all community activities. But not every household can afford a set of ma la. Each set used to be traded for two buffalos, which was a huge fortune in Raglai life.

So one can say that ma la is the instrument of the rich, and chapi is for the poor. Nowadays, chapi has become a popular instrument among the tribes living on the tail of Truong Son in the South of Mid-Vietnam.

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