Best of 2001: Best Place to Hear a Laotian Khaen

Asia Café
4710 Market Street, Chollas View

Bob Dylan may not realize it, but he wouldn't be playing his harmonica if the Laotians and Chinese hadn't invented the khaen and the sheng. The bamboo and metal reed instruments have influenced Western music ever since a sheng was taken to Russia in the 1770s and, say musicologists, contributed to the evolution of the accordion, the harmonium, the concertina, and the harmonica. Problem is, western CDs and boom boxes are killing khaen-playing in Laos and China these days. We have about ten khaen players in San Diego. Go to the Asia Café and ask owner Robert Bavonkhoun if you can hear the hypnotic, almost Cajun sounds of recorded khaen music. You might meet one of the players and hear the real thing. Or at least listen to Shangri-La stories of how khaen sounds used to echo across Laotian valleys, instruments of flirtation that contained intricate love messages.

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