Traditional Laos music can be divided into classical and folk forms.
The Khene is the instrument most identified with Laotian music. A national proverb says that "a person living under a stilted house, eating sticky rice, listening to any music related to Lam or Morlam, and playing the Khene is likely to be Lao or associated with Lao people."
Khenes are made from a special kind of bamboo. It looks slightly Andean in appearance with its sets of bamboo and reed pipes of various lengths, which are strapped together, and then blown into by the player. It can be played solo as in traditional Lao music or in combination with other musical instruments to accompany modern songs.
วิจัย กวิเสส (Bosaka Kirin) Vichai Koviseth is Lao musician, who sing Lao original songs/Golden Oldies.เพลงลาวต้นแบับและอำมะตะ These songs were first composed and recorded by Koviseth ไทยดำรำพัน,นั้หรือรักจริง Khamtoun Vongsanith,ติอ้ายปอนใด,โชกต่างล่าง Khamphou Thavivane โอย่..หิว, อยู่บ้านดง, and Voradeth Dithavong สาวLycee สาวสมัย. 1989-1992 Live Band, Guitar and Lead vocal, Joliet IL. 2000-2005 Active in music, Lao-Thai Band Sacramento,CA USA. 2005-2010 Active in Music, Lao-Thai Band in Elgin,IL USA. 2011-2014 Fine Art Painting and musical Instruments,Rockford, IL USA. 2014- Current Active in Music Video and Sound Recording,Rockford, IL USA.
Rock bands popular with the younger generation include Cells, Smile Black Dog, Dao Kha Chai, Awake, Khem Tid, Eighteen and Black Burn, Aluna, Overdance and LOG. LOG was recently connected to the controversial movie Mark Tae (Lucky loser) that created a riot between Laos and Thailand which needed diplomatic intervention.
Lao music today comes in a wide variety of styles and from different national origins. Outside of Laos, Lao music is mainly created in the United States, France and Canada. An increasing amount of transnational Lao (alternative) rock, pop and hip hop created a new 'oeuvre' next to the traditional Lao music like morlam.
In the United States, rock bands Sarky Mekmorakoth,SDN, Chitpanya and Black Flame found a growing fan base for their music. Most popular Lao pop music in the US is made by three female singers: Phone Phoummithone the young pop princess Birdie and Ketsana Vilaylack.Birdie is quickly on the rise as she balances between mainstream and traditional country Lao music. Most notable Lao hip hop artists from the US are Supasang aka Buc Supa and 'gangsta rapper' Gumby. Both rappers made music videos and both rap in Lao language.
The most famous Lao artist from France is Willy Denzey, a R&B singer who started his singing career in 2001 and achieved success with his hits "Le mur du son", "L'Orphelin" and "Et si tu n'existais pas" and his successful albums #1 and Acte II.
The classical form is closely related to that of the Siamese. The Lao classical orchestra can be divided into two categories, Sep Nyai and Sep Noi (or Mahori). The Sep Nyai is similar to Thai Piphat, and is ceremonial and formal music and includes: two sets of gongs (kong vong), a xylophone (ranat), an oboe (pei or salai), two large kettle drums and two sets of cymbals (xing, similar to Thai ching). The Sep Noi, capable of playing popular tunes, includes two bowed string instruments, the So U and the So I, also known to the Indians. These instruments are similar to the Thai Saw u and Saw duang, respectively. They have a long neck or fingerboard and a small sound box; this sound box is made of bamboo in the So U and from a coconut in the So I. Both instruments have two strings, and the bow is slid between these two strings, which are tuned at a fifth apart and always played together. Furthermore this mahori or sep noi ensemble (the sep nyai is strictly percussion and oboe) may include several khene. In this respect, it differs markedly from the mahori orchestras of Cambodia and Siam.
Some ethnomusicologists believe that Laos is a country where the ancient art music of the Khmer people has been best preserved -- as well as diverse forms of folk music related to the oldest types of Indian music, music that has largely disappeared in India itself. They claim to find in Laos a scale which the ancient Hindus called the "celestial scale," the Gandhara grama, which is a tempered heptatonic scale, or a division of the octave into seven equal parts.
The Royal Lao Orchestra, consisting of musicians of the former court of the king of Laos, who fled Laos following the communist takeover in 1975, now reside in Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, United States.
Laos folk music, known as Lam, is extemporaneous singing accompanied by the khene. It is popular both in Laos and Thailand, where there is a large ethnic Lao population.
History of Laos Music in Thailand
Following the Siamese conquest of Laos in 1828 and the subsequent dispersion of the Lao population into Siam (Central Thailand), Lao music became fashionable there. Sir John Bowring, an envoy from Great Britain, described a meeting with the deputy king (ouparaja) of Siam in 1855 in which his host performed on the Lao khene; at a meeting two days later he entertained Bowring with Lao dancers and khene music. The Chronicles of the Fourth Reign said the deputy king enjoyed playing the khene and "could perform the Lao type of dance and could skillfully perform the Lao comedy-singing. It is said that if one did not actually see his royal person, one would have thought the singer were a real Laos."
Immediately after the deputy king's death in 1865, King Mongkut made known his fear that Lao musical culture would supplant Siamese genres and therefore banned Lao musical performances in a proclamation in which he complained that, "Both men and women now play Lao khene (mo lam) throughout the kingdom...Lao khene is always played for the topknot cutting ceremony and for ordinations. We cannot give the priority to Lao entertainments. Thai have been performing Lao khene for more than ten years now and it has become very common. It is apparent that wherever there is an increase in the playing of Lao khene there is also less rain."
In recent years Lao popular music has made inroads into Thailand through the success of contemporary Lao musicians Alexandria, L.O.G. and Cells. Cells second Lao album 'Saew' was released by Thai label GMM / Grammy in 2007 and received top 20 radio airplay in Bangkok for hit singles 'Waan' and 'Leuk Leuk'. Music videos for 'Waan' and 'Leuk Leuk' have also proved very popular on Thai music video channels and Cells have made several well received tours of Thailand to promote the album.