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Monday, April 27, 2009

Songs of Memory; Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle

We just returned from Bangkok and the opening of friend Victoria Vorreiter's multi-media exhibition at the Jim Thompson House and Gallery. For about 5 years now she has been documenting the traditional music of the tribal groups living in the border region of Laos, Burma, and Thailand, known as the Golden Triangle. Using video and recordings, she hopes to produce a DVD later this year, but for this exhibition she prepared a CD of the music, still photographs, short video clips for each tribe, and a book. I was honored to be involved with the production of the book, which made its debut at the exhibit (cover above). At over 200 pages, it had evolved into a bit more than just an exhibition catalog and includes, in addition to Victoria's evocative prose and still photos of the tribal people, artful photos of the instruments (by Galen Garwood), and an archive showing each instrument and its pertinent details. I will have books available, so write me via our website if you're interested.

The opening was a huge celebration and included four tribal musicians who charmed the 'hi-so' set with their considerable talent. From left are Chi (Karen harp master and well known vocalist), a lady Akha singer and leaf virtuoso,
Victoria, Aju (Akha master musician of many instruments and protector of Akha
culture), and a Lisu musician/dancer/performer extraordinaire.

A contingent of friends from Chiang Mai also made the journey and helped out with the dressing of the mannequins. Here, the winding of a Mien woman's turban required the expertise and four hands of Nussara and Rin.

Most of the instruments were displayed in special, custom-made modules which even included drawers that opened to reveal small pieces such as mouth harps. A listening and viewing station was also included for each group.

Justify Full

Costumes for each of the six tribes were displayed along a side wall and were adjacent to the appropriate instrument displays. Tho Victoria has documented the music of more groups, this exhibition and book were limited to the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu. In the photo below, on the right, are Lisu tseubeu in the case with Karen harps and clothing in the background (Lisu costumes are to the left, but not in the photo). Below, to the left, are shown Lahu free reed pipes in the cabinet, with their clothing and a bossed gong along the wall. A group of Akha outfits are below, with the large bamboo beaters used by hunters in the corner.

Many attendees wore tribal dress, and the group of friends below showed off a variety of ethnic attire and accessories from different places in the region including China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and even India.

Below, Rin, Dtoy, and Nussara are resplendent in Hmong/Miao and Mien pieces from China and Thailand.

For more information on Victoria's current project, and a past one on the traditional music of Morocco, go to her website. The photo galleries are a real treasure trove of tribal people, their clothes and milieu. Also see the Jim Thompson House website for information about the exhibition and more photos. This 'must-see' show will be up until 23 July, 2009, so if you find yourself in Bangkok, don't miss it.

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