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Isan is a culturally-diverse north-eastern region of Thailand where the common language is a combination of Thai and Lao and with "touches" of Cambodian (especially in south Isan near the border with Cambodia).

I personally find the architecture, furniture, food and musical instruments of Isan to be similar to that of Vietnam and the language itself might have been effected from Vietnamese.


A great singer from Isan (from Udon Thani province there) was Yard Napalai ; in Thai: หยาด นภาลัย (1947-2010).
Yard had this collection I found in YouTube:

When I listen to it from the following time spans I recognize three different instruments I would like to know their names in English or Thai.

00:01
03:54
17:30

I understand that the last one is a bow-string (Kamanche-like) instrument named Soaw^u (ซออู้).

How would you name the three instruments from the collection?

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Since you began with language, let us first recall that Thai script is descended from Cambodia's Khmer script, an alphasyllabary or "abugida." That may explain the "touches of Cambodian" in Isan.

three different instruments I would like to know their names in English or Thai

00:01

  • I hear drum, percussion, and two plucked instruments. I presume the plucked is what you ask. They sound electric, so my mind goes to "guitar" type instruments and based on the tones and articulations I'd say they are fretted. I say "they" plural because even though one person could play octaves, the performance tells us it is two players. For example, some of the high notes are articulated differently then their lower brothers (hammered-on while the lower voice is plucking).
  • They may be regular electric guitars but if you're looking for regional options, this website atlas of plucked instruments from the region has detailed descriptions and photos.
  • I'm afraid the electric tone is too generic to know for certain without a visual aid, but in the Isan region a traditional choice is the Phin (พิณ)

03:54

  • Yes! This unique sound is the Khaen (แคน), a free-reed mouth pipe organ of Lao origin, often used in Isan region. This fantastic video by Jonny Olsen explains this lovely instrument in great detail, with performance demonstration. Once you hear his notes solo, you'll recognize it instantly on Yard's recordings.
  • more interesting facts about this instrument are found on Wikipedia

17:30

  • You have already identified this as the Soaw^u (ซออู้) however in Isan Region the standard choice is Saw poo Thai (ซอบั้ง) and also the Saw pip (ซอปีบ or ซอปี๊บ) a.k.a. saw krapong (ซอกระป๋อง)
  • based on the tones on the recording, I would guess the former Saw poo Thai which is made of bamboo

  • An interesting answer. Thanks. Lovely instruments. What a shame they're all playing on western scales these days. – Old Brixtonian Jan 2 at 4:28
  • Thank you dearly for this great answer. I read it and should re read it and learn deeper of these instruments and types of instruments. – user65294 Jan 2 at 10:03

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