Article Written by : Mr. Vannaserm Sisombath
ASEAN-Korea Blog Correspondent, Las PDR
In the past, Laos had a variety of musical instruments. Some of them disappeared during the French colonial period. Lao National musical instruments are pretty similar to Thai and Cambodian instruments because the Lao PDR is located between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. These similarities exist not only between neighboring country; Lao musical instruments have similar looks and sounds to instruments across all 10 ASEAN countries. Lao musical instruments are mainly made of bamboo, reeds, coconut, and hard wood. Therefore, almost all Lao instruments are produced from natural plants, trees and animal skins.
The first Lao traditional instrument that I would like to introduce is the Khaen because the khaen is the oldest of Lao instrument, used in Lao music since the Lan Xang (Million Elephant) era. But it is believed that the Khaen has existed for 4000 years. The Khaen is made by a special kind of bamboo and the reed. Also, the Khaen is a kind of wind instrument because it is played by blowing into a small hole. Usually, Lao people play the khaen to celebrate imperative events, especially Lao New Year. While blowing the khaen, a single player can also make the different tones simultaneously. It can be played solo, as in traditional music, or in the combination with other instruments to accompany modern songs. As a proverb said: “ those who lives under a house on stilts, eat sticky rice, and play the khaen must be Lao or associated with Lao people”.
The photo source: http://www.metmuseum.org
Next, I would like to present the “Ra Nat” as the second of the Lao musical instrument. The Ra Nat is made of the hard wood, and has 22 wooden slats suspended by cords. The Ra Nat was designed to play with two mallets. There are two types of mallets, which are hard mallets and soft mallets. The hard mallets are used for playing fast songs because they create sharp bright sounds. In contrast, the soft mallets make a softer sound and we are usually utilized for playing slow songs. This instrument was popularly played to entertain the king or the queen during the monarchy era in Laos.
The photo source: Courtesy google.com
The Third instrument is the Kong (drum). There are many different types of Kongs. On the left hand side above is a drum made of hard wood and animal skins such as snake and buffalo skins. The kong on the right hand side, in contrast, was made from bronze around 700 BC. These types of drums are called “Bronze Rain Drums”. The rain drum is not only a Lao instrument, but is widely spread across Southeast Asia. One of the unique things about Rain Drums is the frog on the top of drums, and it is believed that playing the drum can make it rain. In the Lao PDR, the Kong is considered to be a symbol of peace. When the Lao PDR gained independent from France, Lao people celebrates the independent day with Kongs. Until now, Lao people still play the Kong to celebrate many festivals in Laos.
The photo source: Courtesy google.com
The next traditional instrument of Lao PDR is the Phin. The Phin is made of Lightweight wood so that it has a good resonant bass and is convenient to carry. In the past, the Phin used to have only 2 or 3 strings. In the present day, the characteristic of the Phin looks like a guitar because it consists of 5 strings, like a guitar. However, the intonation and sound of Phins is totally different from that of guitars. In addition, this instrument was influenced by India and other Southeast Asia regions. Therefore, the Phin is commonly found in neighboring countries of Laos as well.
There are more Lao traditional instruments are more than those be introduced above, which I will introduce to you more about traditional instruments of Laos in the next articles. I hope you enjoy reading and exploring new experiences on the ASEAN-Korea Centre Blog.