Filed under: Laos
Laos was one of the least recorded countries in terms of 78s. In fact, it’s likely that there were NO 78s recorded in Laos itself. There was a batch made by visiting musicians at the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris (see Excavated Shellac for an example.) The only other Lao 78s I’m aware of were made in 1927 by Victor, seemingly in the Central Vietnamese city of Hue.
The development of the recording industry in Southeast Asia mirrors the region’s history in general, coastal cities were the center of trade and growth. Likewise, the early record companies traveled by ship from port to port, starting with Fred Gaisberg’s historic trip in 1902. But Laos is Southeast Asia’s only landlocked nation and is not easily accessible, being bordered by mountains and rivers. It’s no surprise that recording teams never made the arduous trip to Laos. What is surprising is that this handful of Lao recordings were made at all. I’ll be writing about this in more detail for an upcoming project about Southeast Asian 78s…
The khene (khaen in Thailand) is the iconic instrument of the Lao people, including those living in Isaan, the region of Northeast Thailand that formerly belonged to Laos . The khene is basically a bamboo harmonica, two rows of pipes connected in a raft-like form. The player breathes in and out, creating an insistent rhythmic groove. The singing, or lam, is often done by a male and female in a kind of teasing, yet playful repartee.
Here, the male, Mr. Thi, sings “please don’t desert me and make me a widower. If you have to ride on an elephant, don’t forget me.” The female makes a short response, and the male continues saying, “if you don’t love me, you have many ways to say it or to refuse what I offer.” She replies that she’s always ready to accept what he offers. Racy stuff, folks.
Thanks as always to Terry Miller for his help deciphering the music on these Lao and Thai records!
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