Hmong Flute (Raj)
Raj Lev Les
The Raj (tube, flute) is a common instrument used in Hmong music. In a musical context it relates to a wide variety of areophones and is in the category of small wind instruments. There are three types of Raj, the Raj Nplaim, Raj Ntsia, and the Raj Lev Les.
The Raj Nplaim is a free-reed pipe and is known to be a longer flute than the Raj Lev Les. The Raj Nplaim is the most popular to play and uses a small reed to create a buzzing tone quality. It is made in many different sizes and can have from five to seven holes. It is used by sealing your lips around the reed or by putting the top of the instrument in your mouth and blowing to make the different pitches.
The Raj Ntsia is very similar to the Raj Nplaim. But there are only two different. First, Raj Ntsia doesn’t have the brass reed, instead it has a bigger hole that makes the melodies. Secondly, Raj Ntsia is played downward from the mouth instead of side way. The tone and melodies between Raj Nplaim and Raj Ntsia is completely different.
The Raj Lev Les is also a free-reed pipe but it is shorter and recorder-like. The Raj Lev Les can be made out of a small piece of bamboo or grass. These instruments are commonly not found in the United States and can be disposable.
These instruments are known for playing words rather than melodies. This is done by setting pitches to match certain tones of words. In Laos, the Raj is commonly associated with Hmong courtship and dating practices. Young boys and girls would play songs back and forth, and without saying any words, would be able to express their feelings to each other. Another reason a Raj might be played is for entertainment purposes and can even be a way to signal others in the jungle. Although the raj was not played by everyone, most people in Laos could understand the messages played on the instrument because the pitches were based on real tones of the words. Most of these messages played by the Hmong people were either about loneliness or love. In America, the new generations of Hmong Americans have not continued the tradition of the Raj. The reasons for this are because new generations don’t have the deep knowledge of their language that playing and understanding the raj requires. Also, modern dating practices have replaced using the raj for courtship purposes. The older generations play the raj mostly for recreational purposes and at festivals to display their culture.