WORKS: Musiques du Laos
PERFORMER: Various Artists
CATALOGUE NO: 260118
Every folk music has its special instrument: in Laos it’s the khaen, a kind of mouth-organ which in appearance is a bundle of long bamboo pipes, played vertically like the Japanese sho and the Chinese sheng. On this record, reflecting a journey by musicologist Veronique de Lavenere through villages inhabited by many of Laos’s 48 ethnic groups, the khaen mouthorgan reigns supreme.
With MTV-style globalisation destroying everything in its path, field-recordings like these are a precious repository for the musical languages we would otherwise lose for good. However, there is nothing precious about these 39 variegated tracks. They all radiate the pleasure with which Laotian villagers celebrate their festivals and underscore birth, love, and death.
Some of the vocal tracks are refined in styles which have no Western counterpart, and there’s cleverly-structured polyphony among flutes and reed clarinets. Sometimes you can hear the feet stamping on the grass, and sometimes a singer will chuckle between verses: the effects are so vivid the listener might actually be there. Michael Church