Sihome School / Cultural Hall Concert
Today was a life-altering experience for The Earth Stringband. Still in Vientiane, we began our morning with a workshop / concert at the Sihome School (Sihome means ‘beautiful fragrance’.) These kids were far younger than those at the workshop yesterday. This was a true cultural exchange – we shared our music, and when we were done, they shared their music and dance.
We took off our shoes and sandals when we came into the library to show respect for their culture. It’s easy to offend if care is not taken to respect these differences. For example, our signal for “this tune is about to end” is lifting our foot casually. We’ve been performing this action our whole musical lives and it is second nature. In Laos, we have learned that feet and especially showing the soles of your feet or shoes is a very sensitive and potentially very disrespectful action. To choose to take off our footwear, even though our translator offered to explain that it was because we were American and we are not familiar, was to set the tone of respect right from the beginning of the workshop. That tone grew warmer by the second as we began to play music and interact with the kids.
The Earth Stringband is a vibey band. While we’ll play and be happy in any situation because we love playing music together, when we are able to really engage our audience and there’s energy coming back, we feed off the vibes. The energy flowing in the library of the Sihome School was explosive, in the best possible way. While we did not speak the same language, music and dance functioned perfectly as a universal language. These kids had such great energy and we really connected with them on a human level. We fed off their energy as they fed off our energy, whether it was jumping up and down to the Old Time “Wolves ‘A Howling” or meditating to the Cajun waltz, “Chez Seychelles.” Watching the expressions on their faces as they reacted to our traditional music moved us deeply.
When we sat down on the floor to watch some students perform traditional Lao dancing, there was a moment before the dancing started in which a boy was rolling a die (singular of dice), enthralled by the results. He would hold up his fingers with the number it landed on and give a look of true excitement. Entertainment is relative. This is one of those little things that put a lot of other things in perspective for us.
We followed Noi Sengsuriya (who introduced us to the school today and also happens to be one of the most prolific people we have ever met) to one of her favorite Lao restaurants. From exotic vegetables to stomach lining soup to mysterious bitter sauce and really spicy papaya salad (I’m leaving out a Lao-t) this meal of traditional food, prepared by the multi-generational family who ran the restaurant, was off the charts delicious. While I’m in the foodie portion of the blog, I will mention that we really love Beerlao, the National Beer of Laos. It is a crisp, refreshing, balanced lager in the vein of Czech pilsners. The delicious hop flavor especially shines in Beerlao Gold, my personal favorite.
Later on, we performed in the Cultural Hall for the general public, all were invited. The American Ambassador to Laos, Karen Stewart, introduced us and we played two sets of music. After our first set, a group of Lao musicians who were students at the National School of Music and Dance (who we worked with yesterday) played a couple of traditional Lao tunes, followed by the culmination of what we learned from each other: they jammed on Cotton Eyed Joe with us (and even took raging solos!) and we jammed out with them on Cham par meuang lao (a beautiful song about the national flower) as 3 beautiful Lao dancers moved gracefully to the music.
Now, about to leave Laos tomorrow afternoon for Thailand, new adventures await. We’ll be moving forward with a great appreciation for the people and culture of Laos, and we will never forget these experiences. The Earth Stringband loves it here and we all hope to come back soon!
The culinary family:
So much has happened in the past 2 days, I just have to post these pictures from yesterday’s workshop and two more videos of Lao traditional music and dance performed by very young and very good musicians. Here we go: