Here I am! Just Arrived in Ho Chi Minh, I have a bit of spare time to write this post I promised you. With Pan the 7th of December we go to Su Panh, some 16 km far from Sapa to meet this old man who plays and crafted the khen (hmong mouth organ) and the Dan Moi or Nja (mouth harp). When we arrive in the village, the house where he and his wife lives is really small and old. A traditional little bamboo construction with a lot of amazing stuff inside. The smell reminded me my grand-father workplace in Brittany, a smell of metal and oil, of someone working with his hands. But also coal and roasted pig. The old wife was inside, next to the fireplace, she has a cold apparently and she asked to Pan if I ever had some medicines. Unfortunately not. He was outside making the copper reed of a traditional h’mong flute. A rustic forge next to him and a tiny anvil with a big hammer and some files were the only tools I could see. He is 97, Pan told me, but he doesn’t look like his age, though during all my stay he’ll never stand up.
I asked some questions, we begun to talk but the age brings wisdom, and wisdom never talk too much. He communicated through is work and through is patience, in doing so precise actions and tunings that the entire process of creation seemed to me very natural. But it was not!
We also came there with a friend of Pan who brought an old khen as all those of Chen were under construction. As he finished the flute he looked to the mouth organ, fixed the little imperfections he found and he begun to play.
[Chen - Hmong mouth organ]
The khen is used in the Hmong culture as a funeral instrument. Chen is interpreting here a funeral song.
While recording this piece I put the microphone in different places; in this recording I begun next to the holes of the instrument, so we can hear the tapping sound of Chen’s fingers. The second part I moved the microphone on the top of the instrument where the bamboos tubes ends. Here the harmonics of the instrument are really present.
Later he played also some Dan Moi and Dian (the flute he made), here the raw(!) sounds:
[Chen - Dan Moi]
[Chen - Dian]
Two days after, just before leaving from Sapa I was invited by Pan to her wedding with Cedric the Swiss guy (See here) near Ta Van. A Hmong lunch party that was quite difficult for me! We arrived at 10 in the morning. As we get in the house – the weather was rainy and foggy and cold – they served me the first series of rice wine glasses. Ok, they were small, but at this rhythm (and to all those who are laughing at me, I simply couldn’t refuse!! ahah…) I didn’t pass the barrier of 1pm. I felt asleep somewhere in the house. They woke me up at 5 to get back in Sapa. But the morning was funny, a lot of people.
I leave you with some photos and the “suite” for the next post: Hanoi. I warn you now, I didn’t took any photo of this town, but a lot of photos of the Vietnam Ethnic Museum and of my concert at the Cinematheque on the 19th of December.