You could call Alexandra Bounxouei the Britney Spears of Laos – she’s young and vivacious, with a legion of devoted fans around the world. But she’s also a classically trained violinist. Mary Stucky has the story of the Lao Princess of Pop.
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Stucky: 22 year old Alexandra Bounxouei looks the part of a pop ingénue…. with tight jeans, big sunglasses and her little dog tucked under one arm. But then …there’s her music.
It’s a striking combination of rap and traditional Lao melodies played on ancient instruments – in this case, a reed-based flute called a khene with Alexandra Bounxouei… playing the violin.
Bounxouei says combining pop and rap with traditional folk tunes is what made her such a hit. She says Laotians love the folk melodies in her music.
Bounxouei: It’s called… (she sings a bit of it) so it’s exactly the same pattern as my song.
So that touches the people’s hearts because everyone goes like ‘woo woo’ putting their hands up and dancing like crazy.
Stucky: But blending pop and traditional wasn’t Alexandra Bounxouei’s only innovation. She also wears pants when she performs.
Bounxouei: Well, before me Laos women never ever wore pants on stage. It was always traditional Lao skirts. It’s called a sinh, basically a long, long, long skirt. It’s made of silk and all hand made. But I wanted to do something new and I needed to dance, and of course if you wear a Laos skirt you can’t dance.
Stucky: And then another surprise – fans started asking for her autograph.
Bounxouei: The first time I felt awkward because people don’t do that ,here. They wanted me to sign on all kinds of places like opening their shirts and ‘sign it on my heart,’ on their cheeks, on their hats. (giggle) It’s really sweet.
Stucky: Bounxouei’s father is Lao but her mother is from Bulgaria. They met there when her father was studying on a scholarship. The family moved to Laos when Bounxouei was just a baby. But she never quite fit in.
Bounxouei: When I was young it was very, very harsh because they didn’t really accept me as one of them. They always called me ‘oh big eyes, big eyes’ because my eyes were always bigger and my hair was lighter than the rest of the people.
Stucky: But now Bounxouei thinks her appearance contributes to her popularity.
Bounxouei: In this entertainment scene, you need to be unique to make people remember you. That’s what made people remember me.
Stucky: Bounxouei has toured in US cities where there is a Lao diaspora — Nashville, St. Paul, Washington DC, and Seattle. She’s starred in movies and TV shows back in Laos and Thailand.
But Bounxouei isn’t counting on a long career in entertainment – in fact, she’s currently studying at a university in Japan.
Bounxouei: I can’t always be on top. There are always new people coming up so I think I need to so do something else to make my life more stable, stabilize myself (laughs).
Stucky: But for now, Alexandra Bounxouei is the Lao Princess of Pop.
For The World, I’m Mary Stucky, Vientiane, Laos.