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Cha Neng Vang

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Cha Neng Vang was born in Laos in 1954. At the age of 14 he began playing the qeej. After entering the refugee camp he stopped playing the instrument until after he came to the United States in 2000.

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0:05:21

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Transcription

One of the most important instruments in the Hmong culture is the qeej, which is flute made of bamboo. Qeej is more than an instrument in the Hmong culture and has a significant role in traditional, spiritual ceremonies. The music it plays is like an extension of the Hmong language, meaning that every note is like it's own word. To Hmong people, the notes of the qeej are like speech the players are known of story tellers. Cha Neng Vang learned to play the qeej as a young boy in Laos and has been playing for almost 50 years. He shared with us the knowledge of this instrument and his experience playing the qeej. The qeej is used for 4 purposes: 1 is for funeral home or for funeral services, 2 is for your family or household spiritual needs, 3 for entertainment--to go out and show people and give demonstration, and 4 for self-entertainment. And if you know how to play the instrument you have to have a least 2 or 3 at home, so you can play and feel good and bring revival. My name is Cha Neng Vang. I'm going to tell you a little bit about the instrument--the long piece is mode of wood, the upper piece and mouthpiece are copper. The rest of the instrument is bamboo and each queen sounds differently. The big piece is called D-lu, lower one is D-Chue, the one next to it is D-Teng, the back one is D-Seng, the very long piece is called D-Pooh, and the shortest one is D-twag. No matter where you are, if you are playing a Hmong qeej the instrument itself is the same. Depending on where you live, for example, Thailand, Laos, or Vietnam, it may sound different even though it is the same instrument. This instrument can be played by itself for fun or entertainment, but if you are using the queen for a funeral there has to be a drum as well and they have to be played together, consistent with each other and the music. I learned how to play around 14 years old. I learned and I practiced all the way until 1975, then I left it in Laos. So, I left the Qeej behind and had no Qeej. When I came into the refugee camp, my family started going to church and I stopped playing the qeej for spiritual reasons. When I came to America in 2000, I was having some issues in my life and with my family and I feel a need to pick up the qeej and since then I started playing again. When I learned to play the qeej, we learned through listening to the traditional songs. You need to have at least 4 or 5 teachers. You go listen to one teacher play and observe and learn something, then to the next and discover something else, and the next and then the next. In that way, I learned from them and I keep that musical knowledge inside me. Today, they have made the music and notes like A, B, C for those who are learning to play. In my time, there was no book for us to follow-- i just listened, blew the notes and observed. When I stop to think, it's sad because I feel that after my generation they will not know the Hmong tradition or how to play the qeej anymore. The younger generation is more interested in going to church or in playing games, and I feel like our culture and our religion is disappearing.