The qeej (a multiple pipe bamboo mouth organ, pronounced kheng) is the quintessential Hmong instrument. Used in ritual practices, the qeej replicates the tones and vowel sounds of the Hmong language and the qeej player uses his instrument to communicate with the spirit world. Ritual movements accompany the music; your whole body is required to play the qeej. The qeej is also played at home, at festivals, during holiday celebrations, and for entertainment – it connects the Hmong people both spiritually and socially.
Tou Thao learned to play the qeej from master Blay Cha, taking lessons from him at the Hmong Association of Long Beach. Beginning his training in 2006, Tou completed the qeej graduation ceremony six years later. He serves his community as a funeral officiator, playing the ritual qeej songs that will guide a deceased’s spirit to their ancestors in the afterlife.
As a current master artist of ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, Tou will teach his son and apprentice, Alex N. Thao, his repertoire of qeej songs and practices.