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The traditional music of Laos
written by INGO STOEVESANDT
Speaking about the music of Loas one will always be fast to compare it with the music of Thailand and Cambodia.
Not only the several similarities in the names of the instruments, even in historical facts we find basic influencies and analoge developments.
Regarding the fact that the country Laos was "build" by dividing northern Siam from Laos, drawing a border line along the Mekong in the 18th century by the French colonists, we face two seperate developments on each side of the Mekong if we focus on "Lao music", where the musical development in mountainous Laos followed the isolated gegographical and political developments.
In Laos, three kinds of population are considered, namely the "Lao lum" (lowland Lao), the "Lao theung" (Tai and Mon-Khmer people) and the "Lao sung" (upland Lao, mainly Khmu, Hmong and Yao people). The traditional music of the latter, which still shows impacts on the actual Lao music as many performers come frome the mountain areas, still remains unresearched, which was even forced by the fact that Laos was closed from foreign studies from 1975 to 1990.
This is why the music of the mainland Lao and of the Thai and Khmer influenced traditions is in the focus of this article.
To categorize the actual Lao music, it seems helpful to distinguish between the nonclassical folk traditions (which are presented through the ensembles and Instruments used within, the classical music and its basic ensembles and the huge vocal traditions.
Each of this traditions is influenced by regional playing styles, which can be seperated in three different aeras:
Luang Prabang in the north, Vientiane in the center and Champassak in the south.
In the remote area of Luang Prabang the classical Lao court music development to high estate and vanished again. Unfortunately, most of the instruments are actually just catching dust in the royal museum, but showpieces like bronze drums of the DongSon age show the influence of ethnic minorities which were often required from the mountainous areas to perform the instruments.
In Vientiane, the actual regional styles show a lot of Thai influencies. The governmental school "Natasin" which was closed 1975 was reopened 1990 and educates and provides some ensembles for festivals, marriages and other purposes.
The southern region of Champassak is not only influenced by Khmer traditions, here we face a typical mixture of Khmer, Thai and indigenous Lao traditions. Poeple perform mostly Thai style music on Thai instruments but call the ensemble with the Khmer term "Pin Peat".
Still, the result of this irritation and mixture remains a non comparable indigenous Lao tradition which is unique.
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