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KUNMING, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Singing to the guitar was once a fun way for people in the destitute village of Laodabao to relax, but their shared hobby is now helping them to sing their way out of poverty.

Laodabao in mountainous Lancang County in southwest China's Yunnan Province is home to over 400 villagers from the Lahu ethnic group. Their average annual income in 2006 was only 1,700 yuan (about 247 U.S. dollars).

In past decades, starved villagers would search the mountains for anything edible to survive -- wild vegetables, flower, fruits. In their homes, made of thatch or bamboo, the villagers would burn turpentine for light, and their homes often caught fire.

However, poverty did not stop the villagers singing and dancing, almost all are able to play guitar.

Li Shikai is now in his fifties. Over thirty years ago he sold a pig for 60 yuan so he could buy a guitar, which he soon introduced to the village.

"Gradually over half the villagers learnt to play," he said.

His daughter Li Naluo has been playing since she was 13 and started writing songs since when she was 16.

"I write cheerful songs when I am happy and sorrowful songs when upset," she said. "There was no television in the village in the past, and we would sit around the bonfire and sing to the guitar in the evening."

Such is the locals' love of music that their home has been nicknamed the "guitar village."

Until recently such fame has been useless, the village did not even have a proper road. However, things have improved the last few years.

Each household was given 10,000 yuan in subsidy to renovate their homes in 2007, and the county government started a campaign to develop cultural tourism.

A concrete road to the village was built in 2010, and a performance stage and three public toilets were also constructed.

The farmers started a performing company in 2013, and the villagers began composing and rehearsing song and dance performances.

"It was normal for villagers to rehearse until midnight, since we needed to work on the farm in the day," Li Naluo said.

"I never get tired of rehearsing," said Napo, a local soprano. "We really enjoy singing and dancing. It brings us money now. My husband and I make more than 5,000 yuan every year merely by performing."

Zhang Zha'a, chairman of the company, said the village had seen more and more tourists in the last two years, and the local farmers had started to open businesses to cater for them.

They have put on over 200 performances since 2013, and performing has become the main source of income in the village.

In 2015, the average yearly per capita income of the villagers reached 3,314 yuan, double that in 2006, and about half came from performing.

Zhang Zha'a said that the enterprise now has more than 200 employees and all are shareholders in the company.

There are certainly benefits, but growing tourism also poses challenges for the villagers, who increasingly find they need to modernize.

"Many of the farmers are undereducated, sometimes it is even hard for people to do accounts while running their businesses," Zhang said. "I will try my best to send my son to university, hopefully the well-educated younger generation will come back to make the village a better place."

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