One of the ethnic minority groups of China,
the Dong people are said to be the descendants of the ancient Guyue people, with
a history of 2500 years. Mainly distributed in Guizhou, Hunan, Guangxi, and
Hubei provinces, the Dong group has a population of 2.6 million, the majority of
which is engaged in agriculture and forestry. Honest and simple, the Dong people
are rich in creativity, as a folk saying goes, "The Dong culture has three
treasures: drum tower, grand songs, and bridal sedan chair ." Among these
treasures, the grand songs are a kind of folk music special to the Dong group.
Grand songs, known as galao among the locals, are the
most representative public chorus of the Dong people, and popular mainly in Liping, Rongjiang, and Congjiang of
Guizhou Province, and Sanjiang in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Grand songs have
various types, mainly: the narrative style, mainly about story plots and persona dialogues; the lyric
style, mainly about love between the two genders; morality style, mainly about religious and morality
expostulations; and vocalist style, mainly showing the beauty of musical melody; There are also
etiquette-and-custom, drum-tower, and local opera grand songs; According to different singers, there are
grand songs for a male, female, and child's voice. Well-trained choruses perform all
of these songs.
Traditionally, a chorus is made up of one family and the formal performing
place of grand song is the drum-tower. Usually the host group would invite
visiting guests to sing in the antiphonal style. But it should be between groups
of different genders, and song groups of the same gender cannot invite each
other to sing.
The songs may be solo or chorus, with the latter featuring
multiple voice parts: alt, mediant, and bass or only alt and bass. Bass is the
main part, which, while performing, lasts for a long time, lingering like the
loquacious murmuring of a brook. The alt is free to express itself, imitating
hundreds of birds twittering at the same time. Harmonious and prefect, grand
songs have graceful melody and free rhythm, quick or slow. Sometimes, they are
calm and fluent, full of sentiments, sometimes smart and bold, full of grand
might, and at other times sweetly and clearly broad, echoing and attractive.
The Dong people treasures their grand songs
very much, believing that songs are knowledge and that the one capable of
singing a great many songs is knowledgeable. In the areas when the Dongs live,
singing masters are hailed as the most intelligent and sensible, and hence are
highly respected by the local people. As the most important part of the Dong
songs, the graceful and plain grand songs truthfully represent the Dong people's
love for life, nature, and their hometown, and vividly portrait the ethnic
group's character: honesty, warm-heartedness, sincerity, and passion.