THE SOUND OF SIAM VOLUME 2.

THE SOUND OF SIAM VOLUME 2.

For many people, Soundway Records’ compilation The Sound of Siam was their introduction to Thailand’s music. It was released to critical acclaim in November 2010. Sound of Siam was a trendsetting compilation. After that, interest in Asian music exploded. Record companies jumped on the bandwagon. Compilations of Indonesian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, South Korean and Singaporean music were released. Suddenly, Asian music was on trend. Despite this, there was no followup to The Sound Of Siam, until now.

On 26th May 2014, The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 was released. However, compilers Chris Menist, Maft Sai and Miles Cleret hadn’t been resting on their laurels during the last three-and-a-half years. Far from it. As well as compiling The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, they’ve been running their own Paradise Bangkok club nights. They’ve also been working with their own band the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band. Their raison d’être is making molam for the 21st Century. What I hear you say is molam?

Molam is the music of North East Thailand, or Isan. It featured on the first instalment in the Sound of Siam series. Of all the music on the Sound of Siam, molam proved the most popular. So much so, that when the Sound of Siam Volume 2 was commissioned, the compilers decided to return to North East Thailand and feature the region’s music on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2.

There’s more to North East Thailand than molam. Much more. There’s also luk thung. The two musical genres are very different. Having said that, they played an important part in the development of North East Thailand’s music, especially the period between 1970 and 1982, which The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 covers. 

Before 1970, molam was primarily acoustic music. Usually, the vocal is central to molam. That can be traced back to the the meaning of molam. Mo means doctor or expert and lam means expert. So essentially, a molam was a singing expert. However, there’s more to molam than the vocal. 

Three instruments can also be heard on Molam songs. There’s the phin, a three stringed lute. The khalen is essentially a bamboo mouthorgan. It looks not unlike a miniaturised version of a traditional church organ. Then there’s the sor. It’s best described as a one or two stringed violin. These three instruments and the vocal were at the heart of molar music until about 1970. That’s when instruments like the drums, guitars, keyboards and percussion were incorporated into molam music. So, were dance troupes. One of the men behind molam’s modern makeover was promoter and producer Theppabutr Satirodchompu.

He’d been exposed to Western music since the sixties. He heard groups like The Shadows and The Ventures. They were massive throughout Asia. So Theppabutr formed his own band Theppabutr Shadow, and gave Western music an Asian twist. This became known as wong shadow music. Not only were Western hits reinvented, but so were local songs. Everything from rock ’n’ roll and surf music provided inspiration for a new generation of Thai musicians, including Theppabutr, who was on his way to becoming one of the mover and shakers in Thai music.

Before long, Theppabutr was working as a producer on Thai television and radio. This allowed him to showcase a new generation of musicians and singers. With his new position in television and radio, Theppabutr was able to give artists like drummer Saksiam Petchchompu and accordionist Thepporn Petchubon a break. Soon, they were huge stars. Theppabutr was like a star-maker. He could make an artist’s career. So, it’s no surprise he opened his own recording studio,

Siam Studio would be at the heart of Theppabutr’s future business ventures. He hired producer Surin Paksiri to produce artists for his new labels Double Chicken 31 and Theppanom. One of the most successful artists signed to Theppabutr’s labels was Angkanang Kunchai.

With Theppabutr’s help, Angkanang Kunchai became a huge star. She enjoyed a string of hit singles, including Kid Hod Chu, Teoy Salap Pamaa and Lam Plearn Mee Mia Laew Pai. This was a long way from Angkanang’s early days learning to sing molam music. Now she was a star and quite rightly, features four times on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, which is a fusion of molam and luk thung.

Luk thung, which literally translates as “song of the countryside,” is very different to molar music. It has a much more rural sound. This proved popular throughout Thailand. Especially when combined with molam, One of the most successful proponents of the fusion of  molam and luk thung was Saksiam Petchchompu. With Theppabutr guiding his career, he became a star of Thai music. Other artists took things further, incorporating funk with the fusion of  molam and luk thung. That’s apparent on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, which I’ll tell you about.

The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 features a total of nineteen tracks from thirteen artists. This includes some of the biggest names in Thai music, including Angkanang Kunchai, Saksiam Petchchompu and Thepporn Petchubon. There’s also contributions from Banyen Sriwongsa, Chanpen Sirithep, Panom Promma, The Petch Phin Thong Band and Yenjit Porntawi. Just like The Sound Of Siam, The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 is akin to a who’s who of Thai music. Molam and luk thung sits side-by-side on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

It’s fitting that Angkanang Kunchai opens The Sound Of Siam Volume 2. She was one of Thai music’s biggest success stories and is one of the finest exponents of molam music. She contributes a quartet of tracks, includes a trio of singles. The first is Kid Hod Chu, which opens The Sound Of Siam Volume 2. Released as a single on the Hat label, it features an ethereal, soul-baring vocal. Accompanying Angkanang is an understated arrangement, featuring just a piano and phin. It allows Angkanang’s vocal to take centre-stage and you to wallow in its beauty. Very different is Teoy Salap Pamaa. It’s a much more uptempo, urgent track that’s played at celebrations. No wonder. Its percussive delights are irresistible. So is Angkanang’s vocal, on a single that was released on the Phin Khaen label.  Lam Plearn Mee Mia Laew Pai was released as a single on the Lepso label. Here, Angkanang’s accompanied by The Lotus City Band. They join Angkanang in building the drama before the arrangement heads towards the dance-floor. Elements of disco and funk are combined. Wah-wah guitars and saxophone replace traditional instruments on a track that shows how Thai music was evolving. Angkanang’s final contribution is Yak Si Glap Isan, an album track. Produced by Surin Paksiri and featuring the Ubon Pattana Band, it’s a song about a woman longing to return to her rural roots, which Angkanang delivers as if she’s experienced the longing she sings about.

 

The Petch Phin Thong Band contribute one of the hidden gems of The Sound Of Siam Volume 2. No wonder. They were trendsetters. They were the first group to plug in their phin. It’s key to their unique sound. On Bump Lam Plearn, they reinvent the lam learn, by fusing musical genres. There’s everything from funk, jangling pop, psychedelia and even, a nod towards disco. Funky, lysergic, mesmeric and hypnotic, it’s lam learn, but not as we know it.

Anyone whose familiar with West African highlife, will hear similarities with Montien Tienthong’s Kor Kai, which is another luk thing track.  It’s not just the tempo that leads to this comparison, but the fact that the arrangement is propelled along by a myriad of congas and cowbells. Just like the keyboards, they’re provided by The Kwanjaj Kalasin Yuk Pattana Band. They established their reputation playing molam. Later, they adapted to playing luk thing and provide the backdrop for an impassioned vocal.

Banyen Sriwongsa contributes two tracks to The Sound Of Siam Volume 2. They’re Ramwong Saraphan and Lam Plearn Kon Baa Huay. Both singles were released on the Phin Khaen single. Ramwong Saraphan is described as an experimental single. The title refers to a singing competition that took place in Thailand. Entrants had to sing about the various aspects of Buddhism and were judged by the monks. A combination of traditional and Western instruments provide the backdrop for the emotive, powerful vocal. It soars above the tradition sounding Eastern arrangement. Often, Thai musicians took inspiration from other songs and sometimes, in the case of Banyen Sriwongsa, cinema.Lam Plearn Kon Baa Huay sees Banyen borrow from the luk thung classic Lub Lor Tom Pai, and the theme from the famous Thai film, Mon Ruk Luk Thung.This proves a potent and powerful combination. Traditional meets moderne during this irresistible call to dance, featuring a vocal masterclass from Banyen Sriwongsa.

Thepporn Petchubon also features three times on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2.His first and best contribution is Pa Gun Tor. It’s a driving fusion of sixties rock, psychedelia and funk. There’s even some bluesy harmonica thrown in for good measure. It’s the perfect foil for the vampish, dramatic vocal. Saam Gler Tiew Krung has a much more understated, thoughtful sound. Gradually, the arrangement reveals its dramatic secrets. Thepporn’s vocal is pensive and full of emotion as he sings about returning to Isan from Bangkok. It’s with a degree of trepidation he makes this journey. Not only does the song portray this, but shows how Thai music was evolving during this period. The same can be said of Fang Jai Viangjan. It has a slow, bluesy sound. That’s before the punchy horns set the scene for the vocal. It’s full of sadness and emotion. What follows is four minutes of raw emotion set against a bluesy backdrop.

Stabs of braying, funky horns open Chanpen Sirithep’s Lam Plearn Kiew Bao. They’re scene setters. When Chanpen’s vocal enters, it’s full of hurt and heartbreak. She’s lonely and sings of looking for a man. There’s a problem though. She’s “poor and ugly.” What follows is a cathartic outpouring of emotion against an arrangement where funk and jazz combines with molam. The result is a powerful and poignant combination.

Closing The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 is Rome Sithammarat’s Sao New Look. It’s another slow, emotive ballad. The arrangement meanders along, taking on a hypnotic sound. As a result of the fusion of the vocal and arrangement, you’re spellbound. There’s a haunting, mesmeric sound to what’s one of the real highlights of The Sound Of Siam Volume 2.

Although I’ve only mentioned thirteen of the nineteen tracks on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, I could just as easily have mentioned any of the tracks. That’s how good the music is. Not once are you tempted to reach for the remote control. No way. You’re spellbound, wanting to hear each of the track’s subtleties and nuances unfold in all its glory. That’s the sign of a good compilation. Indeed, so good is The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, that I’d say it surpasses its predecessor. That takes some doing. However, compilers Chris Menist, Maft Sai and Miles Cleret have dug deep for what’s a combination of hidden gems, rarities and classics.

That describes The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 perfectly. It’s a mixture of familiar faces and hidden gems with the occasional rarity thrown in for good measure. The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 also shows that there’s more to North East Thailand than molam. Much more. There’s also luk thung. Both genres sit side-by-side on n The Sound Of Siam Volume 2. However, often this is  molar and luk thung with a twist.

Everything from blues, funk, highlife, jazz, pop, psychedelia and rock melts into one on The Sound Of Siam Volume 2, which was recently released by Soundway Records. That’s why The Sound Of Siam Volume 2 is best described as a genre-melting compilation of Thai music released between 1970 and 1982. Some of the music is groundbreaking. That’s thanks to pioneering producers and artists. They transformed Thai music.

These producers and artists ensuring Thai music stayed relevant. If they hand’t ensured that Thai music hadn’t changed, it risked becoming irrelevant. So these pioneering producers and artists deserve our thanks. Without them, Thai music would’ve gone the way on numerous other genres, and we wouldn’t be listening to what’s easily one of the best compilations of Asian music I’ve heard in several years, The Sound Of Siam Volume 2.

THE SOUND OF SIAM VOLUME 2.

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