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by Rick Green

Girls of Zaidang (宰党) Village in Guizhou's Rongjiang County demonstrate singing the Grand Song of the Dong ethnic group. These multi-part songs are performed without accompany instruments or a conductor. They can be ballads, children's songs, welcome songs, or tests of a singer's ability to mimic animals. Formal performances are held in the village drum tower, the focal point for community events.

The Dong are internationally renowned for their polyphonic choral singing, known as the Kam Grand Choir (Kgal Laox). It was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009 due to the Dong tradition of passing on culture and knowledge through their music. The Grand Songs are like a Dong encyclopedia, preserving their history and scientific knowledge, extolling their belief in the unity of humans and nature, promoting moral values, and telling love stories. A common belief among the Dong is that ‘rice nourishes the body and songs nourish the soul’.

Zaidang Village, in the mountains 50 kilometres northeast of Rongjiang, is home to the Miaolanzaidong clan. They are one of the six largest branches of the Dong people. With a population of 2.96 million, the Dong are the 12th largest of China's 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups. They mostly live in eastern Guizhou, western Hunan, and northern Guangxi.

Interested in seeing the Kam Grand Choir? Join Brian K. Smith and I in August on our Southwest China Cultural Minorities and Classical Landscapes tour to Guizhou and Guangxi. We will have an opportunity to see a number of different minority performances during the rice harvest.


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