Hmong for you.
June 9, 2007 2:57 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been grooving to Hmong karaoke videos. Maybe it's the lovely, understated singing style, or those charming young ladies doing backup dance, smiling so beatifically as they do their minimal, bouncy step. Maybe it's the slinky pentatonic sax riffs, or those percussive, insistent strings plucking away over the hypnotically loping beats. Maybe it's the hats. Maybe it's the way some of them incorporate traditional instruments and costumes. Or maybe it's the sheer unlikeliness of lyrics like "tuaj nriav tus neeg zoo nraug" or "yuav mus nrog koj nyob." Everybody, sing along!
posted by flapjax at midnite (40 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The Hmong flute heard in the Maim Tseeb Tseeb clip can be seen being played here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:03 AM on June 9, 2007

Interesting stuff! You know these are pretty high quality for karaoke videos (not sure what that says about the quality of average karaoke videos mind you).

You're practicing these for the MeetUp aren't you?
posted by gomichild at 3:05 AM on June 9, 2007

While we're on that subject, however, it should be noted that the words "Hmong flute" are sometimes also used to describe what is actually a reed instrument, heard here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:07 AM on June 9, 2007

Nah, gomichild, the only thing I'll be blowing at the meetup is a lot of hot air, as usual.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:09 AM on June 9, 2007

The H'mong flute accompanies young H'mong men at work and in love and festivals. For them, the flute is an effective way to reach a girl's heart for her love.

Novel seduction ploy.
posted by gomichild at 3:14 AM on June 9, 2007

I cannot bring myself to watch karaoke on purpose. Just. Can't.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:47 AM on June 9, 2007

Yours makes for a funny comment, chuckdarwin, and I can understand the sentiment, but you should be aware that these are karaoke videos only inasmuch as they show the lyrics to the song being sung. Other than that, though, they are simply music videos. The performers of the songs appear in these clips, unlike the kind of karaoke videos you're probably thinking of, which usually don't feature the original artists but rather are cheesy rerecordings of popular songs, presented with horrible stock footage of seashores and soft focus lovers walking hand in hand at sunset, designed to be sung along to in karaoke bars.

That said, I have a feeling you perhaps wouldn't like these much anyway, so maybe it's just as well that you're not clicking!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:06 AM on June 9, 2007

This is traditional Laos music and the performance, according to my Vietnamese source, is not Hmong. These have hilltribe costumes. For example, the one showing her bellybutton is wearing an Akka outfit (but without headwear). Also it's totally rad.
posted by romanb at 5:33 AM on June 9, 2007

OK now that we see some of the other 'Maybe' videos at the end, now we see some Hmong. Chinese Hmong, though not traditional. Flower Hmong / Black Hmong / White Hmong
posted by romanb at 5:42 AM on June 9, 2007

This is traditional Laos music and the performance, according to my Vietnamese source, is not Hmong.

Interesting. I've just been going with what they're purported to be, which is Hmong all down the line. They are all tagged with "hmong", and at least a couple of them have a "Hmong Productions" (or similar) embedded in the video itself. And they would all appear to be in the same language, which I've assumed is Hmong. Anyone out there able to confirm that point? Languagehat, maybe?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:50 AM on June 9, 2007

Excellent link, the kind of thing I come here for. I would NEVER have checked out a hmong karoake video, or even strung those three words together, or even two of the three. Thanks for turning me on to this.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:15 AM on June 9, 2007

romanb: From what I've been able to glean from here and here I think it's safe to say that these are all Hmong videos. Sung in the Hmong language, called Hmoob. Oh, and as concerns this part of your earlier comment:

"These have hilltribe costumes."

The Hmong themselves are classified as a "hill tribe", as far as I can tell. Admittedly, though, I don't know exactly what that means. Obviously they are a very varied ethnic group, reside in several different countries, etc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:16 AM on June 9, 2007

*sigh* Such unlikely bliss. Thanks flapjax. You've been into curious and intriguing stuff lately.

See, your post is very much why I love coming to MetaFilter. Unexpectedly fun, global kaleidoscope. This one of your links is bizarre, East/West/traditional/modern all at one time in electric colors; psychedelic culture clash.

There's a pleasant unpretentiusness to these, natural beauties in outdoor sunshine, ordinary tropical gardens, uncontrived traffic in the background. At the same time the naturalness is sort of shocking too, compared to MTV. The raw innocence is bluntly entertaining after slick Western visuals. Interesting the classic agricultural modesty and conservatism of movement in the dancing. Wonder what makes farming people reserved and that way?

Always liked Hmong textiles, embroidery and batik. Charming geometric elephant's foot,

About the Hmong people from Wikipedia. And this site has interesting info, "Hmong Means Free- Life in Laos and America"

Surreal Miss Hmong Minnesota. Strange turbans in the Hmong beauty pageant.

Thanks for putting these miniature gems together.
posted by nickyskye at 6:56 AM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

The raw innocence is bluntly entertaining after slick Western visuals.

Well put. I agree. But you've whet my appetite with your turbans link, which unfortunately only redirects to this very post! Try again!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:34 AM on June 9, 2007

Coming from southern Laos, this is unlikely to be Hmong, but well worth a recommendation: Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart: Molam Dub. [LastFM]
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:49 AM on June 9, 2007

Sorry she meant other hilltribes besides Hmong. Either way perhaps you're right about the language :) About these videos (meaning karaoke), she says are probably made for some different tastes, and for her it's clear that the costumes have been altered and mixed, and without question atleast not traditional Hmong outfits. For example those types of 'mini' skirts without wearing leg wraps are not the traditional wear. Also in some of the videos the materials seem unusual with some kind of plastic things used. And ofcourse the same goes with the music.

Anyway that's not to try to take away from these videos, just to point out that these are likely Hmong living abroad or away from their traditional areas (like that Miss Hmong Minnesota in the extreme case :) )

More traditional style Hmong music and videos at this link.

Song to Give the Deceased an Army
Hmong Flute Performance
posted by romanb at 8:00 AM on June 9, 2007


A Film by Robert Millis

"Described as 'The Mardi Gras from Hell' and 'Thai Halloween' PHI TA KHON is a ghost festival that takes place every year in the Isan province of Northern Thailand. Meaning 'ghosts with human eyes' or 'ghost into human,' Phi Ta Khon features magnificent costumes, ornate masks, decorative phallic icons of all sizes, ceremony, drinking, dancing and endless addictive Molam music in higher doses than most souls can process. A mind-blowing and obscure tradition hidden in the interior of the Indochine peninsula. Filmed on location by Robert Millis and Richard Bishop in June 2004."

Seems to be some sort of YouTube promo. Hm, think I'll buy the DVD...
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:02 AM on June 9, 2007

Lao Village Music Party: more Molam fun for you!
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:03 AM on June 9, 2007

romanb: Thanks for the "Army" link. I like that instrument the gentleman is playing. And the LEARNABOUTHMONG.COM link is great, big thanks for that! You'll note that I'd already linked to the Hmong flute clip, in the first comment of this thread.

Also, I don't find it especially unusual that the performers in these clips might be wearing clothing which is not some strictly traditional garb specific to whatever ethnic division of Hmong they may be. These people are all professional singers and entertainers, and as such are indeed likely to don clothing that's a little different from, say, what their cousins back on the farm would wear. Just like anywhere else, we're talking show biz here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:15 AM on June 9, 2007

turbans link, which unfortunately only redirects to this very post

Oh drat, sorry flapjax. Long workday yesterday, can hardly see straight today but had to get my MeFi fix.

OK, the correct Hmong beauty pageant and strange turbans link.
posted by nickyskye at 8:23 AM on June 9, 2007

Yeah I think we made the usual mistake in making a comment before going through the entire post! Anyway, good stuff.

And speaking of show biz, have you seen the intense intro after the opening credits in See Lor's Neej Ntxuag Kua Muag?
posted by romanb at 8:26 AM on June 9, 2007

Funny and pleasing to see these on metafilter. I hear this music all the time as my wife is Hmong. She spends a lot of time downloading this stuff, and has a bunch of vcd's and dvd's.

These are all love songs - 99% of Hmong songs are love songs it seems to me. They're a very romantic people.

Written Hmong looks strange because of a couple of conventions that serve to indicate elements of their language that aren't easily covered by the alphabet: most of the time when you have a final consonant in a word it's serving as a tone mark, and when you have a doubled vowel it indicates a nasalisation of it.

You can see both these at work in the word "Hmoob" which is how you write Hmong in RPA script. The "b" indicates that the word is pronounced with a high tone, and the "oo" produces a softer version of English final "ong" as in "wrong" The initial "hm" represents an aspirated m, like breathing out right before saying "m"

To get back to the videos, Hmong music seems to be pretty big business, and is produced in three main areas: the states, largely CA and MN where the biggest Hmong communities are found, Thailand, and China. More so than many immigrant groups I think, the Hmong value their musical culture and there's a strong trade in music discs at cultural festivals in the US and in the markets of SE Asia.

I dig the music, but it's nothing compared to the everyday singing I've heard in Hmong areas of Northern Vietnam. Unaccompanied, young women sing the story of their life as they go about their day. The tunes are often similar but I'm told the words are improvised and personalized.
posted by grubby at 8:50 AM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: Neej Ntxuag Kua Muag

(sorry, couldn't resist)

Of course, it's not all karaoke & funny turbans for the Hmong. As I understand it, they've been fighting a guerrilla war against the Lao government pretty much since Vietnam, isolated in remote regions & facing widespread persecution, not unlike the Karen in Myanmar.

From the Wikipedia link:

The Secret War began around the time that the United States became officially involved in the Vietnam War. When the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, the Lao kingdom was overthrown by the communists and the Hmong people became targets of retaliation and persecution. While some Hmong people returned to their villages and attempted to resume life under the new regime, thousands more made the trek to and across the Mekong River into Thailand, often under attack. This marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Hmong people from Laos.

Of those Hmong who did not leave, somewhere between two and three thousand were sent to re-education camps where political prisoners served terms of 3-5 years. Many people died in these camps, enduring hard physical labor and harsh conditions.[23] Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions - particlarly Phou Bia, the highest (and thus least accessible) mountain peak in Laos. Initially, some Hmong groups staged attacks against Pathet Lao and Vietnamese troops while others remained in hiding to avoid military retaliation and persecution. Spiritual leader Zong Zoua Her rallied his followers in a guerilla resistance movement called Chao Fa (named for the most senior class--technically, three classes--of the Thai royal family after the royal couple). Initial military successes by these small bands led to military counter-attacks by government forces, including aerial bombing and heavy artillery, as well as the use of defoliants and chemical weapons.[24]

Small groups of Hmong people, many of them second or third generation descendants of former CIA soldiers, remain internally displaced in remote parts of Laos, in fear of government reprisals. Faced with continuing military operations against them by the government and a scarcity of food, some groups have begun coming out of hiding, while others have sought asylum in Thailand and other countries.

And this I filched from a previous MeFi thread.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:53 AM on June 9, 2007

The Hmong have been in the news this past week as Gen. Vang Pao was arrested, with half a dozen other Hmong men, for conspiring to overthrow the Lao Communist government.

Vang Pao was the leader of the CIA's Hmong army and an elder of the US Hmong. Of course he's been plotting to overthrow the Lao gov't pretty much incessantly since 1975. The difference this time seems to be that he was conned into trying to purchase weapons from a US agent.
posted by grubby at 9:05 AM on June 9, 2007

Um, what is going on with US agents in California entrapping a former US ally against the Commies in Laos?

grubby's link required rego, so here is the Bangkok Post version of the story.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:10 AM on June 9, 2007

oy, "Hmong Means Free" link.
posted by nickyskye at 9:13 AM on June 9, 2007

Thanks for that, UbuRoivas - I didn't realize it required reg.
posted by grubby at 9:16 AM on June 9, 2007

Excellent find FaM! I really enjoyed those. And lots of cool in thread links too (seconding JahWobble).
posted by vronsky at 9:18 AM on June 9, 2007

(sleepy, here. great stuff, flapjax. namaskar, nickyskyeji, sukhad sapne (oh, time difference, whatever). no probs, grubbs, and Jah Wobble is always at least a 99% sure bet, vronsky et al)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2007

grubby, Loved your educated comments, especially on the language. I only heard about the Hmong from Western wanderers and expatriates, who'd admired them in Chiang Mai.

aww Ubu, lovely wish, sukhad sapne (sweet dreams). Wishing you the same.

What's JahWobble to do with this post? Lost and bewildered. OK, will Google. ah, YouTube JahWobble. Still lost.

Gotta hit the hay and get some Saturday afternoon shuteye.
posted by nickyskye at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2007

Sleepins called for here, too. Jah Wobble: I mentioned in my first comment here...mixing dub with molam music from Laos. Molam seems quite unrelated to Hmong, so a bit off-topic, but it's another related drop in L'ocean.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:37 AM on June 9, 2007

Surreal Miss Hmong Minnesota.

What's surreal about it? That it's from Minnesota? Minnesota has, I believe, the largest Hmong population in the US. Vang Pao is front-page news here. Or that it's a beauty pageant? No moreso than any other beauty pageant, I'd say.
posted by jiawen at 10:43 AM on June 9, 2007


And the music was wrong, but the vocal style really reminded me of the Fruity Oaty bar video in Serenity.
posted by quin at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2007

Yvan eht nioj.
posted by stavrogin at 1:17 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grubby: Thanks for filling us in on Hmong language particulars.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 PM on June 9, 2007

What's surreal about it?

gee, surreal = "Having an oddly dreamlike quality"

Flamingo pink fan dance to flute music by South East Asian beauty from an ancient (and to most Americans obscure tribal group) in evening dress and unexpectedly modest white satin leggings, a Phuket style painted beach scene backdrop, set in mostly German, Norwegian, Irish and Swedish Minnesota?
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 PM on June 9, 2007

Living in Minneapolis, there are many many Hmong and southeast asian people living here. (ditto with the Somali population, which makes up a large chunk of my neighborhood.)

As most of the Hmong here fled persecution, they retain very little connection to their homelands- only recently can some of them return safely. From what I understand, until they came here there was no written Hmong language. Talk about some serious coping challenges!

My Hmong coworkers and friends (which is a hard nut to crack, at least for me- they can be very insular) are all fanatics about "their music", and typically seem to have large collections of CDs, VCDs, and other sorts of things.

As with most immigration, a group of Hmong settled here, and that has attracted more of them over time. The two largest areas of Hmong population are Minneapolis/St Paul and Fresno, I'm not sure which is bigger now.

I look at the Hmong newspaper at the laundromat on Saturdays and it's always a visual trip to read the things written in Hmoob - I can't get past the strange use of Latin characters. Thanks for the cluestick on how Hmoob is pronounced as Hmong, that's quite useful for me to know!

(Nickyskye: yes, there's a lot of those groups here, but in the city proper it's much more diverse- my morning bus ride is full of several different recent immigrant groups, and it is very colorful to say the least.)
posted by EricGjerde at 8:14 PM on June 9, 2007

Frankly, I prefer karaoke of this sort.
posted by biggity at 8:47 PM on June 9, 2007

I live near an area with a large southeast asian population. Back before DVD's, I used to frequent a small video store called Universe Video.. It was run by Laotians (I think), and 90% of the store was movies in Hmong. I got my introduction to anime and HK action flicks in that place. But I Digress..

There would be all these curious videos in the racks, with scantily clad Laotian women on the front. I asked the shop keeper what it was, and she said karaoke. I had to rent it.

After much protest from the owner, I brought one home and sure enough, it did not dissapoint. Southeast Asian ladies in skimpy outfits, singing karaoke songs that sound just like what is linked above.

The point is, that not all of these southeast asian Karakoe videos are all sweet and innocent like these.
posted by quibx at 9:57 PM on June 9, 2007

EricGjerde, have you been to the market at Como and Pennsylvania in St. Paul? It's awesome. All kinds of food, DVDs, clothes, fresh vegetables & fruits, shoes, tea... It's an Asian-style night market indoors. Lots of Karaoke DVDs, too, if you want 'em.
posted by jiawen at 12:44 AM on June 10, 2007

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