Lately I come across lots of youtube videos or instagram videos of harmonica players from chinese, persian, and arabic speaking countries, and it got me thinking.:What is the history of harmonica in non anglo speaking countries? I have a few harmonica books, but when ever it talks about the history of the instrument it tells of it’s origins in germany and how it got to America. I know this is obviously a very vague question, but if anyone knows about harmonica music and harmonica players from asian, middle eastern or african countries,or maybe south america (basically anything out of the english speakingworld) I’d love to learn more about it. Who are the notable players from that country? what kind of music is widely played on harmonica there? etc etc
Like I said, I realize it is a very large and vague question, so bare with me
around 1825, a European named Richter invented an instrument which has become the modern harmonica. This instrument had 10 holes and two reed plates, each with 10 metal reeds. This meant that each hole had two reeds, one which sounded when blowing, the other which sounded when breathing in. The notes Richter chose for the reeds in his instrument are the same as current diatonic harmonicas.
Mass production of harmonicas began in Vienna in 1829. Harmonicas were soon produced in other cities as well. In Trossingen, a village in Germany, Christian Messner and his cousin Christian Weiss began producing harmonicas in their spare time (their main craft was clockmaking). This business became successful. Some years later, another Trossingen clockmaker, named Matthias Hohner, visited Messner and Weiss, and learnt their harmonica construction technique. He then began his own harmonica business.
Matthias Hohner was apparently not a very good harmonica player, however he was an excellent businessman. He bought out his competitors, and in 1862 began exporting harmonicas to the United States, which soon became his largest market. Hohner continued to expand the business, and in 1900 he handed it over to his 5 sons.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of the harmonica continue to grow. In particular, harmonica bands, with many people playing together, were very popular. The Chromatic harmonica, which include a buttom on the side, allowing all notes to be played, was developed by Hohner. In the 1930’s, Larry Adler became the most famous player of this instrument, and remained so until his death in 2001.
Thank you, I already knew about it’s history in germany and the US, as that is what most books talk about. I should have been more specific: I’m thinking more about the role of harmonica in asian countries, middle eastern countries, south american countries or even african countries. Who are the prominent harmonica players in china for example? what is the history of the instrument there? Is it predominantly a blues instrument there, too? etc etc
I feel like I never hear much about harmonica out of the anglo/euro centric world yet I see a ton of chinese and middle eastern harmonica players on social media, so I’d love to learn more about the history and role of harmonica in other countries. I edited my original post to hopefully be clearer for other people.