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Smithsonian Institution
Americans Old and NewAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
Hmong qeej players

The Twin Cities has the second largest population of Southeast Asian immigrants in the United States (after Los Angeles). The tribal, hill-dwelling Hmong came here after being forced out of their homes in Laos, and their vibrant community exemplifies the continuing contributions of new peoples to the American cultural mix. While attempting to assimilate to modern-day America, they have retained cultural and musical traditions that reach back before the dawn of recorded history. Their instruments are a unique assemblage, from the simple leaf, on which masters will play complex, soaring melodies, to a variety of flutes and the qeej, a sort of reed mouth organ. As Hmong is a tonal language, the melodies are also a sort of language, and an adept musician can play a whole lyric without ever saying a word.
       A number of elders spend their days at the Hmong Cultural Center, a small storefront in a grey, unimpressive shopping mall, passing on his lore to the young members of the Hmong-American community. He leads classes of teeny qeej players, honking and wheezing on their instruments while executing carefully choreographed dance steps. Some of the older students have built on the tradition of dance and music, playing qeej solos while spinning on the floor in moves adapted from inner-city break dancers.


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