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Thai Jakhee

World Music Instrument: The Jakhee

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article about the jakhee, an instrument used in Thai and Khmer music.

The jakhee (จะเข้) is a plucked string instrument with three strings and eleven wooden frets, found in Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia. The name is derived from the Thai word for crocodile, jaurakhee, because the body of the instrument is shaped like a crocodile, and it is sometimes elaborately carved to represent one. The body is made from wood, often from the jackfruit tree, carved out of one piece and covered with a flat lid on the bottom which has sound holes and five short legs.

Crocodile Jakhee

To play the jakhee, the player tightly ties a large pick to their right index finger. The right hand rests against the body of the instrument and the hand rocks back-and-forth over the strings in an arc-shaped motion, plucking strings individually or strumming across all three. The pick is often made from hardwood, bone, ivory or ceramic. The instrument itself can be decorated in elaborate patterns with gold paint, mother-of-pearl, lighter colored wood trim, bone, white resin or ivory. It has two silk or nylon strings, tuned to Do and Sol, and one metal string tuned to Do an octave lower, and they are strung over a curved bridge that gives the instruments a buzzing timbre, similar the javari bridge on Indian instruments such as the sitar.

jakhee-supeena

Supeena Insee Adler playing jakhee

Traditionally, a player sits with legs folded back to one side on the floor behind the instrument, but today it is common for the instrument to be elevated so the player may sit on a chair. The jakhee is often played as a solo instrument, but it is also found in classical ensembles, including the khrueang sai (stringed instruments) and mohoorii ensembles.

The stringed ensemble consists of one jakhee, one sau duang (two-stringed hardwood fiddle with python skin), one sau uu (two stringed fiddle with coconut shell body covered with cow skin), one khlui (wooden vertical flute), thoon-rammanna (a set of two drums), and ching (cymbals). It originated in the royal palace and is often used in entertainment settings, at schools, universities, communities, and temple festivals, and funerals.

The khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble

The khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble

Another, much rarer, kind of ensemble combines the small stringed instrument ensemble with quadruple-reed oboe and a pair of drums (klaung khaek). It is called khrueangsai pii chawaa, or stringed instrument ensemble with Javanese oboe. This ensemble is closely associated with royalty and plays both entertainment and ritual music, and was the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California Riverside, entitled Music for the Few: Nationalism and Thai Royal Authority.

Want to see videos?

Supeena Insee Adler demonstrating the jakhee at UCLA. View here

Chin Kim Yai performed by Saharat Chanchalerm and orchestra at the Thai Cultural Center in Bangkok, Thailand. View here.

Thirty-five jakhee players perform at the funeral of their music teacher, khruu Thaungdii  Sujaritkul. View here

A khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble performing at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. View here.

Supeena Insee Adler, Ph.D., is a lecturer at UCLA, ethnomusicologist, performer, and a volunteer Thai music teacher at the Thai Buddhist Temple in Escondido, California.

Adler plays Khaen

Stirring Sounds from Thailand, Zimbabwe, Iran

La Jolla Light, February 11, 2016

The Center for World Music’s upcoming Passport to Worlds of Music series has been featured in the La Jolla Light.

CWM’s new executive director, Monica Emery, said she’s looking forward to introducing more people of all ages to the delights of world music. . . . ‘Our Passport concerts take place in an intimate setting, with the musicians actually walking you through their music, giving you special insights and inviting you to interact with them, as if they were in your living room.  You can bring your own wine, and we’ll have some snacks too.’

Read the full article:

La Jolla Light Article

World Music Instrument: The Lao Khaen

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article by Christopher Adler, Ph.D.

The khaen is a free-reed mouth organ of the Lao people who live primarily in lowland Laos and the Northeastern region of Thailand (also called Isaan). The instrument consists of two rows of bamboo pipes that are mounted in a wooden windchest. The number of pipes can be between six and eighteen, but the most common form has sixteen pipes. Into each pipe is set a piece of flat metal with a tongue cut into it—this is the free-reed that vibrates whether the players blows into, or draw air out of the instrument, producing a continuous sound. Each pipe has a small finger hole near its reed that acts as an air escape valve, preventing the pipe from sounding unless covered by the player. And so the instrument can sound as many pipes as the player can cover, making it a polyphonic instrument—although the conventional musical texture is a combination of one or more sustaining drones with a melody that may be ornamented or harmonically embellished.

A spirit healing ritual in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Supeena Insee Adler, used by permission.

A spirit healing ritual in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Supeena Insee Adler, used by permission.

As a native instrument with rural origins, unaffiliated with elite royal cultures in the region, the khaen is upheld as a symbol of Lao cultural identity throughout the region and among the Lao diaspora worldwide. The instrument has also been adopted by other ethnic groups in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and is closely related to other free-reed mouth organs found throughout East and Southeast Asia.

Among the Lao, the khaen is traditionally played by both amateur and professional musicians to accompany solo singers called maulam in entertainment settings and sometimes also in spirit rituals. The music can be heard at temple festivals, in local markets, and in professional concerts, and is also taught in public schools and universities. Traditional performance genres are still maintained but are less popular than newer contemporary folk-pop fusions.

A maulam singer and dancers accompanied by a pong lang ensemble in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Mahasarakham University, used by permission.

A maulam singer and dancers accompanied by a pong lang ensemble in Northeast Thailand. Photo by Mahasarakham University, used by permission.

One such modernized form includes the khaen along with newer folk instruments as accompaniment to dance or singing. This ensemble, known as wong pong laang, is ubiquitous in Northeast Thailand at schools and universities and is presented nationally and internationally as a musical symbol of the Isaan region.

The khaen is also found in folk-pop fusion genre called lam sing, where the instrument appears as a visible sign of ethnic and regional identity, but is often sonically overwhelmed by other amplified instruments.

See the khaen in action on YouTube: Khaen Master Sombat SimlahLao Khaen Master Lung Kong |  Folk—Pop Fusion Wong Pong Laang

Christopher Adler, Ph.D is a former board member of the Center for World Music,  and is a composer, performer and improviser living in San Diego, California. In addition to being a Professor at the University of San Diego, he is internationally recognized as a foremost performer of new and traditional music for the khaen.

Thai Dancer at Erawan

Traditional Thai Dance Continues at Bangkok Shrine

The popular Erawan shrine in Bangkok was recently the target of a bomb attack, but the performance of classical dance continues. Here’s a thoughtful update on a “day in the life” of a Thai dancer . . .

The crew began their shift. There were four musicians — one on taphon (barrel drum), another on ching (cymbals) and the other two on ranad (Thai xylophone). The dancers also sang along to each song. Their words melted into the Thai orchestra, creating a chanting resonance and sacred ambience befitting the holy shrine

Read the full article, “Dancer in the Light,” in the Bangkok Post.

Thai Khon Dance

Keeping Khon Dance Alive in Bangkok

From the Bangkok Post, a dance master explains how and why he teaches Thai classical dance to children.  The video clip shows children learning to perform the Ramakien, the Thai version of the India’s great epic, the Ramayana.

Welcome to a school that teaches Khon to children – both rich and poor. A Khon teacher explains how this traditional masked dance based on the Ramayana epic can help children in both their personal life and their career.

Read the full article at BangkokPost.com.

 

 

Nuping

Thai Folk Musician Khampai Nuping Dies at 90

Thai “National Artist in the Field of Performing Arts” Khamphai Nupong died on Tuesday morning of old age in Nan province at the age of 90.  Link with video below.

He was a musician who performed northern Thai folk music and had expertise in playing the fiddle. He was named an Honourable Person with Outstanding Works in Art and Culture in 1990 and a National Artist in the Field of Performing Arts (folk songs and fiddle) in 1995.

Read the full article at BangkokPost.com.

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