Just like “Nha Nhac” (Vietnamese court music) or “Quan Ho Bac Ninh” folk songs of Vietnam, the Khaen Music of Laos has been inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The traditional music of Laos received the title in 2017 and is a big pride for the country as well as Lao people.
About Khaen Music in the UNESCO concept
Khaen music of the Lao people is the first and only Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Laos. To play Khaen music, people use a mouth organ resembling panpipes but made from bamboo tubes of various lengths; each has a metal reed. Players will blow into this musical instrument through an air chamber, and the sound of the music is subject to the size and the length of the tube. The music is said to provide harmonic sophistication which is an indispensable part of village festivals across the country. The villagers find it customary to sing and dance according to the sound. Becoming an active participant is what most of the locals do, instead of just being the audiences or spectators.
As an integral part of culture and life in Laos, Khaen music helps connect family and society. With the use of bamboo tubes, the play of this music also embraces a healthy lifestyle and ecofriendly agriculture. In reality, there are the Khaen player associations in the local communities in which the young people can actively learn the art. To keep the practice, despite the urbanization, some associations and groups have initiated to enhance and consolidate this music via the format and non-formal education. Particularly, the Association of Khaen Arts has organized events to popularize the art.
Khaen Traditional Music Instrument in Public View
Khaen or pipe organ made from bamboo tubes is the first traditional musical instrument of Laos, which was also the oldest one since Lan Xiang period. The public even believes that Khaen has existed for around 4000 years. By blowing into this musical instrument through an air chamber, players can create a myriad of tunes. The tool can be used only or mixed with other instruments. To somebody, the instrument of Khaen is magical as it can produce variables of sounds, volume, and tones which can be on a par with the electric string orchestra.
As the cultural symbol of the nation, Khaen music can be performed to entertain the delegates and guests in special events or national festivals. What’s more, this musical instrument has been widely introduced to the international shows which receive compliments on its unique and special effectiveness. Generations of the Lao people should always be proud of their intangible cultural heritage. It is effectively used for social and family cohesion that brings people together. Kept from generation to generation, Khaen Laos is the cultural symbol of the country and the UNESCO recognition helps enhance the residents’ awareness and contribution to preserve the cultural and historical heritage, as well as Nature. Meanwhile, the young generations will learn to value their beautiful traditions and patriotism.
In that sense, during the travels to Laos, keep in mind the fact that the Lao people might be able to play a Khaen musical instrument. Not only is the sound of this pipe organ necessary in the festivals but also the daily activities. It is a nice idea to ask the locals about their Khaen, and they will be happy to answer your questions, or even perform it to show their pride and expertise. Once the Khaen music of Laos sound is played, most of the Lao people will not only the spectators, but they will actively participate in the songs and even dance. If that is the case, enjoy the beautiful cultural experience!