Monday, April 22, 2013

The Band

Shan Musician - A Leaf Blower
As some people get to be around my age, they talk about "getting the band back together".

No, this blog is not about a group of middle aged or older men hoping to possibly recapture the enthusiasm, glory, and vitality of a long past time.  This blog is not about the Windjammers or Mustangs from my high school years or my fraternity band the "Wazoos".  This blog is not even about "The Band" that was so instrumental in the music scene of 1968-1975 or is it even about "We're An American Band" a song made famous in 1973 by Grand Funk Railroad.

This blog is about today.  It is not about glory.  It is about a band, a simple and humble band ... a Shan band.

On Thursday, the second day of the Poi Sang Long Festival, we returned to Wat Hua Wiang at a more reasonable hour to witness the start of the procession through the center of the city.  We arrived about an hour before the scheduled start of the procession so there was plenty of time as well as opportunities to photograph the people.

Towards the front of the second wave of the participants in the procession, we found a decorated flat bed truck ... and a familiar face.  Seated at the head of the flat bed, was the very same leaf blower musician that we had seen four years ago.  Time had been kind to this man.  He looked exactly the same.

A Violin Type Instrument With Attached Sound Horn and Microphone 
The band that he plays in had changed somewhat.  There was now a keyboard and banjo joining the traditional drum, guitar like stringed instrument, and a violin type instrument.  All the musicians were dressed in traditional Shan clothing.

Another Stringed Instrument in the Band
The stringed instruments were very interesting.   The violin type instruments had a metal sound box that transitioned into a sound horn - a sort of mechanical amplifier.  A small microphone was attached inside of the sound horn to allow electrical amplification of the sound.

The banjo also had a electrical hook up to allow for electrical amplification of its sound.

Electrical amplification was necessary because the band provides the traditional Shan music during the course of the procession.  Periodically along the procession route, a large troupe of Shan women, dressed in traditional Shan costume, perform traditional dances to the band's music.  In between the dance stops, the band performs traditional music to entertain the crowds along the streets.

Drummer Tunes Drum With His Hammer
My taste in music is very eclectic although it excludes jazz, hip hop and rap.  The Shan music is very ethnic in it sounds.  It resembles, at least to my ears, Chinese music which is understandable because the Shan people originally migrated from China to Burma (Myanmar) before immigrating to Northern Thailand.  Leaf blowing also is a part of some Chinese ethnic music.  The Hmong as well as the Shan peoples still utilize leaves in their ethnic music.  The sound from blowing on leaves is squawking sound however the skilled musician can make the sound over a wide frequency and actually carry a tune with them.  The melding of the instruments created a "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.

I enjoyed listening to the Shan music.  Like other ethnic music, the Shan music captures and defines the unique aspects of a people's culture.  It serves as a link to a shared common experience and past while serving as a bridge to the future.  Ethnic music is also a celebration of the diversity of mankind.  It is a celebration that I hope continues forever.  I do not want to live in a homogenized world, a world of common government, common laws, common thought, common lifestyles and worst of all common culture.  At my age I do not have to worry about living in a homogenized world but I have concerns for the world that my grandchildren and their children or grandchildren could find themselves in.

People like the members of the Shan band are on the front lines maintaining and sharing their unique cultures. We are all enriched by their efforts.

"Allen's World" is a large world with many fascinating people and many diverse unique cultures to experience and to strive to understand.  It is an interesting place that is open to all, not just me and my wife, to explore, to cherish, and to appreciate.  The most important step in what can be a wonderful journey for any one is that first step outside of their comfort zone.  I hope to see more fellow travelers on some these back roads - roads outside of their comfort zones.

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