From St. Paul’s East Side to the stage, Kao Kalia Yang’s ‘The Song Poet’ is first Hmong story adapted to opera

For much of Kao Kalia Yang’s life, the world of opera felt very far away. 

“I grew up poor on the East Side of St. Paul,” Yang said. “I came here as a refugee kid. So, the world of opera is not a very accessible world to me. I’d gone to a few operas when I was in graduate school in New York City, but then it was to all the glitz and the glam. I didn’t see space for myself.”

To Yang, those New York City operas, performed in Italian, felt like “another world.” Now, almost two decades later, Yang will have the opportunity to see an opera that is very much her world—an adaptation of her award-winning memoir, The Song Poet, premieres Thursday at the Luminary Arts Center in Minneapolis. 

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Bee Yang

Hmong song poetry | kwv txhiaj hmoob

Thaum Hluas Txog Hnub Laus: When the Days of Youth are Gone (Bee Yang, 2014)

This is an album of Hmong song poetry, kwv txhiaj hmoob, composed and sung by Bee Yang, Kao Kalia Yang’s father. The album notes and English translation of one of the songs are by Kao Kalia Yang.

Kwv txhiaj is, in the words of Ralph Ellison on the American Blues, “an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-cosmic lyricism. As a form, the blues [and kwv txhiaj] is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.”

NOTE:  The duration of the songs do not reflect the actual song length.  Please consider ordering the CD for the full songs.  Thank you.

*This CD is available for purchase for $15.  Click below to order:


Bee Yang: Hmong Song Poetry



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