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Isoka or Mini Ocarina - Ancient Clay Flute That Is Fun For All Ages
I once met a parent who took an interest in different musical instruments from the world, collected them and then without any compensation visited different schools in West Los Angeles to demonstrate their sounds. I was amused but was not touched. Then recently I returned from Oxnard's Strawberry Festival which is known for its music, strawberry-themed food, a variety of food vendors, kids' ride, and my personal favorite, the crafts fair. There, I met a man named Luis Gervasi who had a booth selling small, medium, and large Isoka flutes that resembled oval bugs. He also had other isoka flutes shaped like dolphins. He offered these small clay instruments in red, green, and red with white Aztec designs. The sound in controlled toots was mesmerizing. My kids just perked up like mice following Pied Piper of Hamelin. Our kids were not the only ones there, and a husky Hispanic boy jumped in front of my kids and handed the artisan his cash and chose a small red one like the one shown.
Although Luis called his instruments isoka flutes, this type of clay flutes that was first used in Central and South America by the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and Diaguitas in rituals, shedding light on the inner lives or the long forgotten humans who used them. This instrument has been found in India, and a more egg-shaped in China called "Xun". In 1527, Aztecs musicians introduced it to Europe, and it then evolved to the potato-shaped clay instrument, which was nicknamed "ocarina" or "little goose." When the recorder became popular, isoka flutes or ocarinas became obscure. The release of a popular video game called “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” renewed the public's interest in ocarinas or isoka flutes.
Luis's isoka flutes have a short slitted blow hole and a bigger hole like a whistle where the air and sound flow out. On the top there are four holes (three large and one small) and two holes on the backside. The isoka flutes can be blown or tooted, the latter method reminding me of "Toot Sweets" in Chilly Chilly Bang Bang. See video below. They are also called mini ocarinas or four-holed ocarinas. Interestingly, the two YouTube videos do not demonstrate the tooting techniques but were flown like flutes.
My kids have not lost interest yet. Whether they are called isoka flutes or ocarinas, the clay instruments are rather cute and portable, hung around their necks like necklaces. And coincidentally, my son is a huge Legend of Zelda fan. If you like the red one, you can contact Luis at email@example.com.