Legend has it that a poor young man named Lo went missing from his village. After some time his friends went to look for him and finally found him, dead by a stream with a Khen Be in his hand.

In his memory, his friends made copies of his Khen Be. Since that time, young Thai men have carried theses with them day and night.

A Khen Be looks a little like a large scale mouth organ or pan pipe, but with a single cross pipe/ sound box, into which you blow to create the musical notes. The sound comes from tiny swinging reeds inside the bamboo tubes, with the notes changing by closing the holes on the tubes.

The Khen Be of the Thai people consists of fourteen small thin bamboo tubes, arranged together and decreasing in height with one end connected to a sound box. It is divided into two layers, each consisting of seven bamboo tubes. The sound box is made of wood, with the one end hollow for blowing into and the other sealed with max.

Whereas the Hmong Khen Be comprises only four hallow bamboo tubes attached to a sound box. The overall size of a khen be is determined by is maker, while the sound is dependent on the type of reeds used. These are usually made of bronze of silver, are as thin as paper, and are attached inside the bamboo tubes. Circular tones holes are made in the sound box.


Thus the tone, pitch and range of the instrument depend on its reeds and the distance between the holes. A Khen Be with a long loud low-pitch is commonly used by old people at home, while a shorter low and high-pitched one is used by young people.

Lo Van Nhoi, a famous khen be artisan says, “A good Khen Be  while being played, should reveal its player’s and the maker’s innermost feelings.” Behind the severity and hardness of mountain living, the people are simple and quiet souls, and filled with the aspiration to be at one with nature.

The Khen Be is used in many difference aspects of daily life such as celebrations like the Lunar New Year festival, ceremonies to welcome guests and weddings. Its sound is seductive, whether it is played wild and fast or slow and gentle. The ethnic minorities use the Khen Be as an accompaniment to folk-songs and dances in their traditional festivals and when celebrating other significant events.

The music of the Khen Be has become an instrument of seduction used by young men to convey message and woo young women. When a young man knows how to hold and use a knife and hoe correctly to work in the field, it is also time for him to play the khen be well.

The people learn how to play the khen be not only to entertain, but also to show off their talents and help them to find their life partners. Young men of strong build who can play alluring khen be melodies easily win young women’s hearts.

Source: VOV


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