Instrumental Khaen (THAILAND)
December 6, 2009, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Thailand

Now, for one of my favorite musical subjects…the khaen!

The northeast region of Thailand is called Isan and is made up of a majority of Lao speaking people. The music and instruments are distinct from the rest of Thailand, the main instrument being the free-reed mouth organ called khaen (pronounced “can”, it’s often spelled khene, khen, or any number of variations.) It consists of a series of bamboo pipes in two rows fitted into a wooden holder. The player breathes in and out of the wooden wind chest, fingering holes on either side. Each pipe has it’s own free reed, similar to a harmonica.

The player sets up hypnotic pentatonic grooves, usually to back up a singer. It’s interesting to note that the musical pitches are very close to Western scales, as opposed to the rest of Thai music where the scale is divided more or less evenly into seven notes.

The khaen is also the dominant instrument in Lao music. Here’s a Lao khaen player from 1902:

There are two songs on each side of this 45rpm record from the 1960s…here are both the songs from side one; Kan Lao Kra Thomai and Kan Lum Pleun played by Thongkham Thaikla (thanks again to Peter Doolan for artist translation.)

> Pin Khaen HS 348 side 1


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I love the sound of the khaen, although it’s not to everybody’s taste!

Comment by Charlie @ Best Hotel Bangkok

well, the last thing I would worry about is “everybody’s taste”, especially on this blog!

more khaen on the way….

Haji Maji

Comment by HAJI MAJI


Comment by JW

Odd that, in the photo of the khaen player, only the right-most dancer seems to have any idea what she’s doing. I assume that none of them is a dancer, but that that one knows something about it and is able to pose in a more-or-less authentic way.

Comment by Peter J. King

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