Bounxeung Synanonh, a Fresno musician born in Laos, has been awarded a fellowship with the National Endowment of the Arts for his mastery of the khaen, a free-reed mouth organ made from 16 lengths of bamboo.
The National Heritage Fellowship recognizes accomplished artists in the folk and traditional arts.
“I think the award affirms he is the finest khaen player in the country,” said Amy Kitchener, executive director at the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. “This is a much deserved award.”
Synanonh was born in Savannakhet in 1949 and immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, fleeing war in Laos. He went blind at age 15 and learned to play the khaen by ear. The instrument is rooted in Lao culture, and accompanies lum, a tradition of sung poetry.
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Synanonh and the other fellows will be awarded $25,000 and will be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in September.