First-Ever St. Paul ‘Qeej Festival’ Highlights Hmong Musical Instrument

23 May 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The Qeej Festival in St. Paul on Sunday celebrated a musical instrument that’s one of the most recognized symbols of the Hmong people.

The day-long showcase highlighted every aspect of the traditional wooden wind instrument.

“Eight different reeds to make a sound. And it actually it sounds very similar to the bagpipe,” said Koob Meej Lee, a qeej instructor and the emcee of the event.

The Hmong Cultural Center put on this unique event for the first time.

“It’s the first one in the nation,” said HCC executive director Txong Pao Lee.

The festival, held at the Landmark Center, also featured tradition Hmong dance. People from around the country came together to preserve Hmong culture.

(credit: CBS)

“(From) Madison, Wisconsin, from California … It shows that in the Hmong community, we actually are so far apart, we actually are really close together and are still able to, you know, make the trip to see each other,” said Koob Meej Lee.

The qeej is played during Hmong New Year, funerals and weddings.

“Very important for the young to showcase that it’s not performed at the funeral only,” said Txong Pao Lee.

A musical heritage, kept alive.

“A lot of the traditions is kinda lost, and so by having this event to showcase the qeej, to tell what the qeej is about, to show how that’s culturally relevant, and how we can even implement it into the, you know, the Hmong American story is super important,” said Koob Meej Lee.

The Hmong Cultural Center offers qeej classes. Click here for more information.

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