Music & Dance

As in other South-East Asian cultures, music in  Laos can be divided into classical and folk traditions. The classical music is the least interesting, simply because it is so imitative of the classical traditions of Thailand and Cambodia. Lao classical music was originally developed as court music for royal ceremonies and classical dance-drama during the reign of Vientiane's Chao Anou, who had been educated in the Siamese court in Bangkok. The standard ensemble for this genre is the sep nyai and consists of khawng wong (a set of tuned gongs), the ranyaat (a xylophone-like instrument), the khui (bamboo flute) and the pii (a double-reed wind instrument similar to the oboe) - exactly the same instruments are used in the Thai pii-phda! ensemble.
The practice of classical Lao music and drama has been in decline for some time 40 years of intermittent war and revolution has simply made this kind of entertainment a low priority among most Lao. Generally, the only time you'll hear this type of music is during the occasional public performance of the Pha Lak Pha Lam, a dance-drama based on the Hindu Ramayana epic.


Not so with Lao folk music, which has al-ways stayed close to the people. The principal instrument in the folk genre is the khden (French spelling: khene), a wind instrument that is devised of a double row of bamboo like reeds fitted into a hardwood sound box and made air-tight with beeswax. The rows can be as Few as four or as many as eight courses (for a total of 16 pipes), and the instrument can vary in length from around 80cm to 2m. In the early 20th century there were also nine-course khaen but these have all but disappeared. The khaen player blows into the sound box while covering or uncovering small holes in the reeds that determine the pitch for each (as with a harmonica, sound is produced whether the breath is moving in or out of the instrument). An adept player can produce a churning, calliope-like music that you can dance to. The most popular folk dance is the lam wong (circle performance) in which couples dance circles around one another until there are three circles in all: a circle danced by the individual, a circle danced by the couple, and one danced by the whole crowd.


The khaen is often accompanied by the saw (sometimes written so), a bowed string instrument. In more elaborate ensembles the khui and khawng wong may be added, as well as various hand drums. Khaen music can also incorporate a vocalist. Most Lao pop music is based on vocal khaen music. Melodies are almost always pentatonic, ie, they feature five-note scales.