Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Khaen Pipe Busking - Street Performing

If you visit the Chatuchak weekend market you're bound to run into people playing on the walkways for spare change, or busking to those of you in the UK. The two boys above were working as a team one late morning, standing in the already hot sun and going at it almost non-stop.

Another boy performing at
Chatuchak one morning
Being a musical skill passed along from one generation to the next he music played isn't always high quality, but if you appreciate free-form jazz you're likely of a mind to enjoy the somewhat repetitive, trance-like melodies they perform. What I mean is, the age of the performer isn't necessarily an indicator of the level of authenticity, and I'm not an expert so this kid might qualify as a very good player - who knows?

The variety of melody and tones used has been better with some older players I've heard - I can say that much.

The instrument the boy in the red shirt in the clip is playing is called a khaen; also spelled "kaen" and "khen", transliteration being the imperfect process it often is. There is also a close relative in the same family known as the khene; nearly identical, but tuned to a different (pentatonic) scale.

The khaen is a set of bamboo pipes, carefully cut to different lengths to produce different notes, and I say carefully because unlike a stringed instrument it's nearly impossible to "tune" it once the pipe is cut. There are five basic lai, or modes, of tuning for the khaen. This is beyond my musical knowledge, so forgive me for quoting a bit here from Wikipedia to explain them to those who'll understand:

"The khaen has five different lai, or modes: Lai Yai (A C D E G), Lai Noi (D F G A C), Lai Soutsanaen (G A C D E), Lai Po Sai (C D F G A), and Lai Soi (D E G A B). Lai Po Sai is considered to be the oldest of the Lai Khaen and Lai Soutsanaen the 'Father of the Lai Khaen.' "

More common in the Isaan region of Thaland, it's also a common woodwind used in the music of Laos and Cambodia.

I confess, when I hear this at an outdoor restaurant as part of the entertainment it's difficult to stay seated and not join in with the others who get up to dance. Thankfully, decency usually keeps me seated.


krobbie said...

It is not often you see people busking in Thailand and if you do it is usually God awful as these tuneless types are just beggars plain and simple, which is fine.

Every now and then you come across someone who obviously does have a musical bent. These kids at the Jatuchak weekend market are such.
Bobey and I have taken photos of them and with them over the years.
As you say the sound can be repetitive to the non-Thai but you have to give them their due.

Cheers Bao-Bao be well.


khunbaobao said...

The first time I heard players at a market I said to myself "OK, when's the chorus?" but it's less of a melody and more of a rhythm; more chant-like, if I'm to be kind.

Of course, I'd say tunefulness (or talent) isn't a necessity in Western music, either, if you've had the radio on to a Top 20 station lately, but that's probably just me edging towards the curmudgeon stage. ;-)

krobbie said...

Get a move on you old curmudgeon, the path is narrow and I'm right behind you.

khunbaobao said...

Oh... so THAT'S who's been shoving. Happy to be sharing the path!