In Mongolia, there is cause for concern about the performance techniques of limbe practitioners. The limbe was added yesterday to the United Nations List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
The Limbe is a side-blown flute of hardwood or bamboo, traditionally used to perform Mongolian folk long songs. Through the use of circular breathing, Limbe performers are able to produce the continuous, wide-ranging melodies characteristic of the long song.
Players breathe in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth, using air stored in their cheeks to play the flute without interruption. Single stanzas of folk long song last approximately four to five minutes.
A single song consists of three to five or more stanzas, which requires performance of the flute to continue uninterrupted for twelve to twenty-five minutes. Traditional training methods used to acquire this technique include continuously blowing at a candle flame without extinguishing it and blowing through a straw into a glass of water.
Limbe playing is characterized by euphonious melodies, melisma, hidden tunes and skilful and delicate movements of the fingers and tongue.
The small number of bearers of the element has become cause for concern with a considerable decrease in groups and individual practitioners. This has been caused in part by the predominance of international musical forms and training systems.
At present, the frequency and extent of this traditional element’s practice are unstable with only fourteen Limbe practitioners remaining.