Lao musical instrument Khaen declared humanity’s heritage

Khaen players entertain visiting delegates and guests. Vientiane Times
Khaen players entertain visiting delegates and guests. Vientiane Times

Lao musical instrument Khaen declared humanity’s heritage

by Souksakhone Vaenkeo

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The music of the Khaen, a Lao instrument, has been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The recognition was announced at the twelfth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage that took place on Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, from December 4-9, 2017.

The Khaen music of the ethnic Lao people has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Unesco said on its website.

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith last week told the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to prepare events to celebrate Unesco’s recognition at the two-day nationwide meeting that ended on Friday in Vientiane.

Deputy Director General of the Heritage Department, Mr Samlan Luang-aphay said the Lao government submitted a proposal to UNESCO a few years ago for recognition.

The recognition reflects the cultural value of the instrument, which has been played by the ethnic Lao people from generation to generation in all parts of the country and other nations.

“The Khaen has been played with folk songs of many parts of the country,” Mr Samlan said.

These included khab xam neau (Xam Neau folksong) sung by people in Xamneau district, northern Huaphan province, khab phuan folksong sung by people in northern Xieng Khuang province, khab ngum of Vientiane province, lam sa la vanh of southern Saravan province and lam si phan don of southern Champassak province.

On many occasions, Khaen has been played in traditional art performances showcasing Lao cultural arts to visiting foreign delegations and quests.

Many hotels and restaurants have included Khaen music in their regular programmes to entertain customers while showcasing Lao culture.

The Khaen is played as a mouth organ that resembles panpipes but made with bamboo tubes of varying lengths and a metal reed.

The player blows into the instrument through an air chamber and the sound produced depends on the size of the tube.

“Khaen music is popular in all regions of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic due to its harmonic richness,” Unesco wrote on its website.

“It is usually part of village festivals, and it is customary for people listening to it to become active participants in the songs and dances, rather than mere spectators.”

According to the inscription, Khaen music is an integral part of Lao life that promotes family and social cohesion. Thanks to the use of bamboo, the practice is also linked to natural agriculture and healthy lifestyles.

Families play an essential role in transmitting the art and Khaen player associations exist in many local communities where young people can learn.

Seeking to maintain the practice in spite of lifestyle changes including urbanisation, several local communities, associations and groups have begun various initiatives to consolidate and promote it through formal and non-formal education, the Unesco said.

In 2005, the Association of Khaen Arts was established, and various festivals are organised to promote and enhance the art.

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