The loneliness of the last Lao piper

The last Lao player of the traditional khene mouth organ sits at his home in Banteay Meanchey province, caressing the bamboo pipes of his rare musical instrument lovingly.

White-haired Si Phaly is currently eighty two, and is mourning the loss of his craft. None of his youngsters or grandchildren was fascinated by learning the khene, and he could also be the last player of ancient Lao songs remaining in Cambodia.

Something like despair crosses his face as he remembers the glory days in Cambodia of the Sixties, when Lao language and culture flourished among the descendants of migrants from Laos.

The lilting sounds of the khene were usually heard then, as folks gathered to celebrate weddings, festivals and parties, Si Phaly remembers.

Two singers historically accompanied the music, creating up verses on the spot within the Lao language and pitting their wits against one another, he explains.

“Its thereforeund is so stunning. It very encourages folks to bop. Anyone who feels sleepy can plan to come to life as a result of they don’t wish to miss the sounds. the most effective khene performers will blow all types of rhythms.”

There are many sizes of khene, that are made of bamboo. Some have 5, six or eight pipes, and that they are available in lengths of up to one.5 metres, with the longer organs sustaining a louder sound, says Si Phaly.

“Khene isn’t as onerous to play because the flute as a result of its sound may be created by either blowing out air or inhaling, whereas the flute needs you to stay blowing out to form a sound. therefore we will play the khene all day long,” he says.

Speaking in a very dialect that sounds noticeably like Khmer Surin in Thailand, Si Phaly says that he was born in Cambodia close to Sdei Leu village in Koymaeng commune in Mongkul Borei district.

His folks were from Laos originally, however had fled to Thailand’s Sisaket province before moving across the Cambodian border to settle within the village.

“My father was additionally a khene player. I learned the way to play it from him in addition as from alternative musicians,” says Si Phaly.

The Lao community gradually expanded, and descendants still live within the village and in Sdei Krom village nearby.

But they weren’t immune from the deadly influence of the Khmer Rouge stain spreading across the land within the Nineteen Seventies.

Music was banned. however Si Phaly managed to stay 2 of his beloved khene instruments hidden. Wrapping them in cloth, he hid them as he moved from one house to a different.

He decided to safeguard them therefore Cambodians might continue creating the organs and carrying on the tradition.

After the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, the few khene players that remained within the district gradually took up their pipes once more, sending the lilting sounds all over again over the countryside.

But over the years they need died, and currently there aren’t any young singers who will continue the tradition of accompanying the khene within the Lao language.

The words stay known solely to a number of folks over sixty, says Si Phaly sadly.

He takes up his khene to play, its soft sounds attracting relatives and neighbours to listen to the music. They haven’t usually heard Si Phaly play since he became sick a number of years ago.

But largely his precious instruments keep within the closet – they’ll survive, even when the last player’s notes fade away.

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