To the beat of the drum

The International Folk Culture Festival in Nan. photos courtesy of DASTA

Nan is a northern city which was founded more than 700 years ago, and has unique art and culture. Its people have a proverb saying that Nan’s heavenly sounds are “the sound of beating gongs and drums”, “the sound of rice-pounding mortars” and “the sound of scripture-reciting monks”. They believe the city continues to prosper as long as it is rich in food and resources, the people live comfortably, Buddhist monks are good and the sound of musical instruments and the puja drums resonate as offerings to the Lord Buddha.

The puja drum (also known as the buja drum), part of Nan’s cultural heritage, is a local drum used in monasteries in the Lanna Kingdom since ancient times. It is played as an offering to the Lord Buddha and at other traditional festivals. The drum is played together with other traditional musical instruments.

The puja drum dance is a highlight of the International Folk Culture Festival that will take place at Wat Phumin in Nan province on Saturday. Nan has been chosen as the venue because it is culturally rich in Lanna heritage and home to numerous tribes. Now in its first year, the event presents some of the many ways that Nan culture is connected with that of its neighbours in Greater Mekong, including cultural performances from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The performances begin at 6pm and run until midnight. Among the highlights are nine sets of puja performance, local performances on Nan boats, singh dancing, pan dancing, Nanthaburi Nakhon Nan and Sri Phu Phiang dances, as well as performances from Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Cambodia presents the Pinpeat ensemble comprised of sralai (oboe), roneat ek (high-pitched xylophone), roneat thong (low-pitched xylophone), kong vong thom (low-pitched circular gongs), samphor (double-sided barrel drum), skor thom (large twin barrel-shaped drums) and chhing (small-hand cymbals). Performers are teachers at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Ministry of Culture, Cambodia.

Myanmar showcases the small-scaled Hsaing Waing ensemble by the new generation of musicians, including drummer Htet Arkar. In addition, the music will be played by a Chinese folk percussion band by a group of teachers and students from Guangxi Arts University, in Nanning, the Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region, which has a frog-drum culture.

A folk music ensemble from Dan Xang Traditional Lao Music and Dance Troupe, Vientiane, consists of a single-headed bass drum, long-footed drum, phang hard (flatted bronze gong), sanai (blowing horn), khaen (bamboo mouth organ) and large cymbal. An all-female musical group from Hanoi National Academy of Music, Vietnam, will play dan da (lithophone), dan trung (bamboo xylophone), red drum and miscellaneous percussions.

Other activities during the festival include the Drum Culture and Tourism Seminar; cultural exhibitions and lectures on Nan’s cultural heritage; knowledge exchange about the culture, art and crafts of Nan and neighbouring countries; and the sale of local products.

The Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration and the Office of Designated Areas of Nan Old Town as the organisers hope the event helps build cultural understanding among Asean nations, establish networks for further tourism development and co-operation, and act as a platform for knowledge and cultural exchange.

Call the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Phrae Office, which oversees tourism marketing in Nan as well, on 054-521-127.