MUSIC IN THAILAND: CLASSICAL THAI MUSIC, LUK THUNG, MOR LAM, ROCK AND FULL MOON PARTIES

MUSIC IN THAILAND

Thai music for all intents and purposes follows a the pentatonic scales with the exception of tuned percussion which have seven note octaves. Most music is two beat with a stress on the second beat. Melody structures are complex because of frequent transpositions. Singing melodies are often conceived as narratives.

Classical Thai music developed in the royal court while folk and popular music sprung up in the countryside and the cities among ordinary people. Phra Charoen, a monk at the monastery at Wat Tham Krabok, records geological data with instruments and pairs it with the traditional 180 bar phases in Thai music.

According to Wikipedia: The music of Thailand reflects its geographic position at the intersection of China and India, and reflects trade routes that have historically included Persia, Africa, Greece and Rome. Thai musical instruments are varied and reflect ancient influence from far afield - including the klong thap and khim (Persian origin), the jakhe (Indian origin), the klong jin (Chinese origin), and the klong kaek (Indonesian origin). Though Thailand was never colonized by colonial powers, pop music and other forms of modern Asian, European and American music have become extremely influential. The two most popular styles of traditional Thai music are luk thung and mor lam; the latter in particular has close affinities with the Music of Laos. Aside from the Thai, ethnic minorities such as the Lao, Lawa, Hmong, Akha, Khmer, Lisu, Karen and Lahu peoples have retained traditional musical forms. [Source: Wikipedia]

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog: “ The music of Thailand and the Thais covers a wide variety of musical traditions of different origins. Speaking of the "Thai" actually means speaking about members of the Tai-Kadai language family, which consists of six subgroups, defined by their geographical settlement: 1) Western Thai (Shan); 2) Southern Thai (Siamese) ; 3) Mekong Thai (Lao, etc); 4) Upland Thai ("Coloured" Thai); 5) Eastern Thai (Nung, etc); 6) Kadai (Li, Kelao, Laqua). This way we can find many members of this language family in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Combined with the musical traditions of the members of these groups, the musical traditions of Thailand are best described by splitting it up into the four areas of music of the South, Central Thailand, the North (Lan na) and the Northeast (Isaan) of Thailand. [Source: Ingo Stoevesandt, istov.de/htmls/thailand

Each of this regions knows indigenous habits and influences, whether it is the court music of central Thailand, the famous fingernail dance of the North or the shadow puppet theatre in Southern Thailand. In each region, village and court traditions have to be viewed separately from the perspective of their modern manifestations. appearance today. Speaking of influences, the modern "Thai" culture in Thailand presents itself as a mixture of indigenous habits with those brought in by Mon, Khmer and also Chinese immigrants. The shifting of the location of the capital city marks the historical phrases in Thailand: 1) in the 12th century, Chiang Mai and Sukothai; 2) the golden age of Ayutthaya beginning around 1350; and 3) theperiod after Burmese defeated Ayutthaya in 1767, when the new capital moved to Thonburi (Bangkok) and Rattanakosin kings took over.

World Music CDs: Stern's Music in New York.

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Classical Thai Music

Classical Thai music has been traced back to Sukhothai (founded in A.D. 1283). Bas reliefs from the ancient city show people playing instruments similar to those played by Thai classical musicians today. The seven-note Thai scale sounds strange to Western ears and there is not written form of Thai classical music. Thai classical music is patronized by the royal family. Pi-phat music traditionally accompanied khon or lakorn (classical dance drama), or nang (shadow puppet enactments of the Ramakien myth). It is also played during temple rituals, ceremonies or various kinds, dance performances and funerals.

According to Wikipedia: “Thai classical music is synonymous with those stylized court ensembles and repertoires that emerged in its present form within the royal centers of Central Thailand some 800 years ago. These ensembles, while being deeply influenced by Khmer and even older practices and repertoires from India, are today uniquely Thai expressions. While the three primary classical ensembles, the Piphat, Khrueang sai and Mahori differ in significant ways, they all share a basic instrumentation and theoretical approach. Each employ the small ching hand cymbals and the krap wooden sticks to mark the primary beat reference. Several kinds of small drums (klong) are employed in these ensembles to outline the basic rhythmic structure (natab) that is punctuated at the end by the striking of a suspended gong (mong). Seen in its most basic formulation, the classical Thai orchestras are very similar to the Cambodian (Khmer) pinpeat and mahori ensembles, and structurally similar to other orchestras found within the widespread Southeast Asian gong-chime musical culture, such as the large gamelan of Bali and Java, which most likely have their common roots in the diffusion of Vietnamese Dong-Son bronze drums beginning in the A.D. first century. [Source: Wikipedia]

Piphat is the most common and iconic Thai classical music. Symbolizing the dancing of the Thailand's legendary dragons, it is played by a midsized orchestra that includes two xylophones (ranat), an oboe (pi), barrel drums (klong) and two circular sets of tuned horizontal gong-chimes (khong wong lek and khong wong yai). Piphat can be performed in either a loud outdoor style using hard mallets(Piphat mai khaeng; or in an indoor style using padded hammers(Piphat mai nuam; ). There are several types of piphat ensembles ranging in size and orchestration, each kind typically being associated with specific ceremonial purposes. The highly decorated piphat ensemble that features the ornately carved and painted semicircular vertical gong-chime is traditionally associated with the funeral and cremation ceremonies of the Mon ethnic group. Different versions of the piphat ensemble are employed to accompany specific forms of traditional Thai drama such as the large shadow puppet theater (nang yai) and the khon dance drama. [Ibid]

Mahori has traditionally been played by women in the courts of both Central Thailand and Cambodia. Historically the ensemble included smaller instruments more appropriate, it was thought, to the build of female performers. Today the ensemble employs regular sized instruments—a combination of instruments from both the Khruang Sai and Piphat ensembles but excluding the loud and rather shrill oboe pi. The ensemble, which is performed in three sizes—small, medium and large—includes the three-string saw sam sai fiddle, a delicate-sounding, middle-range bowed lute with silk strings. Within the context of the Mahori ensemble, the so sam sai accompanies the vocalist, which plays a more prominent role in this ensemble than in any other classical Thai orchestra.

While Thai classical music was somewhat discouraged as being unmodern and backward looking during Thailand's aggressively nationalistic modernization policies of mid-20th century, the classical arts have benefited recently from increased governmental sponsorship and funding as well as popular interest as expressed in such films as Homrong: The Overture (2003), a popular fictionalized biography of a famous traditional xylophone (ranat ek) performer. Artists like Kangsadan and Fong Naam have released interesting music that blends traditional Thai music with rock and jazz.

Classical Thai Musical Instruments

Instruments in a traditional pi-phat ensemble, which is not unlike an Indonesian gamelon orchestra, include khong wong (gong circles), renat (Thai xylophones), klong (different kinds of drums), klui (recorder), diddley bow (a large single stringed instrument that sounds like a bass), kaen (reed mouth organ) and picnai (oboe-like instrument). These are sometimes supplemented with a flute and fiddle. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

The Khrueang Sai orchestra combines some of the percussion of wind instruments of the piphat with an expanded string section including the saw duang (a high-pitched two-string bowed lute), the lower pitched saw u (bowed lute) and the three-string jakhe (a plucked zither). In addition to these instruments are the khlui (vertical fipple flute) in several sizes and ranges, a goblet drum (thon-rammana) and, occasionally, a small hammered Chinese dulcimer (khim). The khrueang sai ensemble is primarily used for instrumental indoor performances and for accompanying the Thai hoon grabok (stick-puppet theater), a genre deeply influenced by Chinese puppetry styles. Accordingly, the addition of Chinese-sounding string instruments in the khrueang sai ensemble is imagined, by the Thai, to be a reference to the probable Chinese origins of this theater form. [Source: Wikipedia]

Fong Nam is a traditionalist gong and chime orchestra that in the words of the New York Times produces “lively, shimmering percussion music.” Bruce Gaston, an American gong player in Fong Naam told the Rough Guide to World Music, "Thai music is very tactile; the pi phat orchestra is divided up on the basis of actions. It's very a Buddhist way of doing things: the oneness of what is going in your mind and what your body is doing." He also said Thai music and culture is like a bubble: "a short, fleeting moment of existence—beauty which points towards impermanence."

Regional Music, Dance and Performing Arts in Thailand

Thais in the central plains are primarily rice farmers who live along rivers and canals. They lead simple lives tilling the land and tending paddy fields. Their simple entertainment forms relate to the rice cycle or religious functions, as relief from hard work or to celebrate occasions such as the completion of a successful harvest. The events are joyful and entertaining, with rousing songs and joyous dances for everyone to enjoy, such as the Sickle Dance, or it may be a night of singing duets, when men and women sing humorous dialogues, to the accompaniment provided by folk instruments such as drums, cymbals, and sticks. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Moreover, there are classical performing art forms requiring high-level ability and dedicated training, such as the traditional music ensembles, the classical puppet theater, lakhon (stage play), and khon (classical masked dance), formerly presented as entertainment in the royal court. Khon performances always feature episodes from the Ramakian, the Thai version of the Ramayana, which is clear evidence off Indian influence.

The northern dances are based on the fon style of the Lan Na Kingdom, highlighting the gentle and graceful movements of female dancers, normally in large groups, all clad in beautiful local garments, dancing to the rhythms of folk instruments. On the male side, their famous victory drum dance highlights their strength and boosts the morale of the people. It is performed by strong Thai men, who pound on the big drums with sticks and even various parts of their bodies, including their shoulders, elbows, kneecaps, and head.

The performing art of the Northeasterners is lively and funfilled, such as the soeng, using various implements from the daily lives of the sticky-rice eaters as part of the show, such as soeng kratip (a dance with steamed rice containers), soeng sawing (fish traps), or soeng yae khai mot daeng (sticks for digging out eggs from ant nests). Along with being very entertaining, the dances provide insight into the traditional lifestyle of the people of Isan. A well-known Isan performance is mo lam , with male and female experts reciting stories to the tune of folk instruments played in ensembles, especially the reed pipe instrument, kaen; the one-string instrument, phin; and the wooden xylophone with the bars tied together in a row, pong lang. The pong lang is widely used in folk song recitation, folk dances, and other performances.

Thai Folk Music and Pop Music

The main styles of Thai folk music (pleng phua bahn) are: 1) bong land (instrumental music named after a northern bamboo xylophone), mor lam glow (all night singing from the north), likay wolou (Malay-influenced music for the south), hill tribe music from the north, and various kinds of festival music. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

The music from the Northeast is very distinctive, using instruments such as the kahen , a reed instrument made of rows of bamboo pipes; the ponland , a xylophone-like instrument made of short logs; and the phin a small three-string lute plucked with a large plectrum.

The most well-styles of Thai pop music are luk thung, (literally "child of the fields," extremely popular ballad and country music), luk grung, (similar to luk thung except the singing is clearer and the music is more Westernized) mor lam (country music inspired by folk music c from the northeast), pleng phua chiwit (fusion of Thai folk music and Western progressive rock with it roots in 70s protest music), string (westernized Thai pop for old people), kantrum (Thai-Cambodian pop) and rock side (a mix of Lao and Khmer styes with rock).

Thai music concerts often feature large orchestras and singers, who do one or two hits, and move on and make way for the next singer. Of the music heard on top-40 radio stations about 40 percent is luk thung, 30 percent is string and 20 percent is luk grung. Kantrum and rock sider are associated with Khmers who live near Cambodia in Surin province.

The pop music industry in Thailand took off in the 1980s with the help of the economic boom and copyright laws passed in 1979. In recent years the idol phenomena has taken hold in Thailand. Singing ability often counts for less than good looks and sexual appeal to teenage audience. In the 1990s Japanese pop was embraced by some young people. These days Korean pop music (K-Pop) is popular.

In the early 2000s one of the most popular artists in Thailand was the string singer Thongechai "Bird" Macintyre Joey Bey was a popular singer in the 1990s. He dressed in pajamas and wore his hair in Chinese-style pigtails and rapped in Thai, English and Chinese with a Canadian backing band.

Luk Thung Music

Luk thung, or Thai country music, developed in the mid-20th century to reflect daily trials and tribulations of rural Thais. It has traditionally been regarded as rural, peasant music while luk grung has traditionally been regarded as urban, rich people music. Luk thung means “child of the field.” It is often the music you hear blaring from tinny speakers in taxis in Thailand. It recent years luk thung has been embraced by a wide audience and is particularly popular among the middle class. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Luk thung features thumping drums and pulsating organ riffs. It developed in the 1940s as a fusion of pleng chiwat (“songs of life”) folk music, Hollywood and Broadway show music, and Malay pop music and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Over the years luk thung has been influenced by mambo and Latin music, yodeling-style American country-western, Japanese enka, and electronic music.

Early luk thung celebrated romantic love in a rural setting and focused on the lives of ordinary country people and their poverty and hard lives. The lyrics often tell the hard-luck stories of peasant farmers, prostitutes, truck drivers, railway workers, day laborers and street vendors. The words and singing style in luk thung are often very sexually suggestive.

Luk Thung Artists

Pongsri Woranut and Suraphol Sombatcharoen were the luk thung’s first big stars, incorporating influences from elsewhere in Asia. Many of the most popular artists have come from the central city of Suphanburi, including megastar Pumpuang Duangjan, who pioneered electronic luk thung. The late 90's saw a commercial resurgence of Luk Thung, and the modern electrified, pop-influenced version of the genre remains the country's most popular music form.

Popular luk thung artists include Kamrot Samboojnanon (from the 1940s), Suraphon Sombatjalern (from the 1950s) and Pongsri Woranut (from the 1960s), Sayan Sanya (from the 1970s) and Pimpa Pornsiri (popularizer of "applied" luk thung in the 1980s). [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Surapon Sombadchareon is regarded as the king of luk thung. He helped bring luk thing to the cities and modernize it. He was killed in 1967 by the jealous husband of one his lovers. His biggest hit was Nam Da Sow Vienne (“Tears of a Lao Girl”), which was released in 1952.

The biggest feamle luk thung singer was Pompung Duangjon, a cute singer with a wavering, wailing voice who rose quickly to stardom, was popular in the late 1970s and died tragically in 1992 at the age of 31. Some 200,000 people showed up at her funeral, including members of the royal family. Poor peasants trekked thousands of miles to attend.

Modern bands like High-o have mixed rock and hip hop with luk thung. Female singers such as Pimpa Pronsiri and Siriporn Ampapon incorporate elements of mor lam and Bollywood film music in their music.

Mor Lam Music

Mor lam is the dominant folk music of Thailand's northeastern Isan region, which has a mainly Lao population. Based on centuries-old folk music with religious themes, it went through a lively period of experimentation in the 1960s and 1970s, when luk thung incorporated non-Thai influences such as rock and disco. Mor Lam has much in common with luk thung, such as its focus on the life of the rural poor. It is characterized by rapid-fire, rhythmic vocals and a funk feel to the percussion. The lead singer, also called a mor lam, is most often accompanied by the khaen, also known as khene. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music, Los Angeles Times]

Mor Lam develop out of all-night festival music that features singing battles between men and women. Similar to music from Laos, it played by small groups of musicians singing and playing the khaen (bambo mouth organ), chin (temple-style bells) and phin (2-4 string guitar). Popular mor lam artists include Banyen Rakgan, Jintara Poonlarp and Chalerphol Malaikahm.

Mor lam emerged in the 1980s. Derived from folk music of the Northeast, it is sung in Lao rather than Thai and is harder-driving and more intense than luk thung and features a bluesy kind of singing that touches the hearts of many rural Thais. It is influenced by and competes with luk thung and is often associated with the mass migration from the poor countryside to the cities. There are about fifteen regional variations of mor lam, plus modern versions such as mor lam sing. Some conservatives have criticized these as the commercialization of traditional cultures.

Isan is also also known for kantrum, a kind of music much less famous than mor lam. Kantrum is played by Khmer living near the border with Cambodia. It is a swift and very traditional dance music. In its purest form, cho-kantrum, singers, percussion and tro (a type of fiddle) dominate the sound. A more modern form using electric instrumentation arose in the mid-1980s. Later in the decade, Darkie became the genre's biggest star, and he crossed into mainstream markets in the later 1990s. [Source: Wikipedia]

Isaan Dancehall: Urban Thais Get Into Luk Thung and Mor Lam

Reporting from Bangkok, Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “On a recent Saturday evening at the Cosmic Cafe here, young Thais with pixie haircuts and ornate shoulder tattoos chatted in groups, their faces illuminated by the soft glow of smartphones. Although the space was packed, the energy level lagged compared with Bubble Bar next door, which boomed with the latest hip-hop and techno tracks. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2012]

“But the crowd surged to its feet when the DJ began playing 1970s-era luk thung and mor lam, Thai musical genres closely associated with hardscrabble life in the country's poor, rural northeast. Women squealed and gracefully twirled their arms in traditional ballet-style patterns, and some began mouthing along to the music's warbling, soulful vocals, backed by traditional Thai instruments and carried along by driving, syncopated beats. [Ibid]

“This was the latest installment of Isan Dancehall, part of a small but growing cultural movement that is reviving interest in a forgotten era of Thai music and art. Similar trends have taken hold in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia, as a region hurtling toward the future begins to investigate its recent cultural past. [Ibid]

“The revival is transcendingThailand'sdeep social and class divides. The dancehall parties gather an unlikely audience inBangkok'syoung and hip — those with university degrees, stints living abroad and jobs in creative fields — to celebrate the music of Isan, a region perceived by many Thais as backward and unsophisticated. [Ibid]

DJ Promoter of Isaan Dancehall

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ At the center of the Isan music revival is Bangkok native Nattapon Siangsukon, a DJ, promoter and owner of the Zudrangma record label and store. After studying fashion promotion for six years in London, he returned to Thailand in 2006 and began buying worn-out copies of luk thung and mor lam records from dingy shops in Chinatown. Nearly all Thais are familiar with contemporary versions of this music — it is ubiquitous in Bangkok's taxis, whose drivers tend to be migrants from Isan — but middle-class urbanites consider it deeply unfashionable. "People say to me, 'You studied abroad, you speak English. Why are you into this taxi driver music?' It's seen as low class," Siangsukon said. He was drawn to forgotten classics from the 1960s and 1970s for their experimentalism and high production values. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2012]

“Siangsukon's pursuit has often felt like a race against time. "I went to a music distributor in Isan recently, and the guy told me he'd just burned 30,000 records the night before," Siangsukon said, sighing. Although he doesn't consider himself a historian, he is trying to expose his peers, many of whom favor cultural imports from Korea and the United States, such as Katy Perry and Jennifer Lopez, to their own heritage. "We don't know our own history. We are creating a country with no roots," he said. [Ibid]

“Initially, it was a tough sell. Siangsukon and Chris Menist, an English DJ and fellow Thai music enthusiast whom he met digging for records, threw their first party in 2009 at a "run-down gallery-slash-bar in the middle of nowhere with lizards running across the dance floor," Siangsukon said. Two hundred people showed up, but most were foreigners. Still, the pair pressed on. They began putting out Isan compilations and re-releasing singles on their own Zudrangma and Paradise Bangkok labels and touring Europe and Japan to acclaim. Despite the interest overseas, though, "our focus was still on Thailand," Menist said. [Ibid]

“Slowly, their efforts began to pay off. Somrak Sila, 33, co-director of an art gallery in Bangkok, is one of a growing number of Thais to have attended the parties. She said she was struck by Siangsukon's bravery in championing a music that others had scorned. "I was amazed that he was able to bring back this old style of music and make it cool again," she said. [Ibid]

Political Aspects of the Luk Thung and Mor Lam Revival

Dustin Roasa wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Not everyone has been impressed. Thai nationalists have told Siangsukon that the music is strictly for Thais, not foreigners, and that it should not be played alongside world genres like reggae and Ethiopian music, as Siangsukon and his fellow DJs like to do. He's also encountered resistance from Isan, which, culturally speaking, is light-years away from the nightclubs of Bangkok. Most of the musicians come from the northeast and sing in Lao, the region's language. [Source: Dustin Roasa, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2012]

“And in Thailand's fractured politics, Isan music is closely associated with the red-shirt political movement, which Bangkok'spro-monarchy yellow shirts — who like the revivalists tend to be educated, urban and middle class — blame for riots that killed at least 90 people in the spring of 2010. Isan accounts for roughly one-third of Thailand's land area and population and remains one of the country's poorest regions. The Thai government began a program of assimilation in the early 1900s that downplayed the region's distinct identity in schools and government administration. Music became a way for northeasterners to assert this identity. [Ibid]

“When red-shirt activists began pouring into Bangkok in the spring of 2010 to demonstrate against the government of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, they defiantly blasted luk thung and mor lam from massive speakers. The leaders also held massive fundraising concerts that poured money into the movement. "During these concerts, red shirt leaders would sing old songs but would change the lyrics to be political," said James Mitchell, a researcher at Macquarie University in Australia who studies Thai popular music. [Ibid]

“Isan identity and the red-shirt movement are now nearly indistinguishable, Mitchell said. But as a wave of cultural pride and political consciousness has swept the northeast, resentment toward the red-shirt movement has grown in Bangkok in the wake of the death and destruction caused by the riots. Siangsukon is sensitive to these tensions but says that his motives are purely musical, not political. "I don't care if an artist sings for the red-shirt movement," he said. "If the music is good, I'm open-minded to it."

Rock Music in Thailand

Leading Bangkok rock bands in the mid 2000s included Sek Loso (named after the its singer and guitarist), the Photo Sticker Machine, Modern Dog...the female pop star Palmy, the female rocker Rik Vachilipilun and Pru (a band lead by singer and dancer Noi Pru). [Source: Jon Pareles, New York Times, July 31, 2006]

On a performance by these artists at New York’s Lincoln Center, Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, “Thai rockers proudly took up Western styles from the 1970s and 80s, apparently without retro irony, Modern Dog sang earnest power ballads; the Photo Sticker Machine backed up Ms. Vachiilipilun in a moody, atmospheric dirge...Sek Loso led his band in punky, power-pop and went on to play some bluesy slide guitar.”

Sek Lose performed a “rak opera”—a rock version of the Ramakien a Thai version of Hinduism’s most famous story—with rock bands, designers and dancers from Thailand at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. On this part of the show Pareles wrote, “Noi Pru did a sinewy dance as Hanumnen—sometimes monkeyish, sometimes menacing—and then sang a rock song in a style akin to Midnight Oil’s...Palmy was abducted to a squall of guitars and Ms, Vachilipilunls stylized howls and screams.”

“The finale was the work’s richest, most singular fusion. As Palmy sang a sweetly plaintive pop melody against a counterpoint of gongs” the dancer “Tanatanit floated on tiptoe across thee stage, trailing a long white train. Uncluttered and almost mystical, the scene fulfilled some of possibilities that Ramakiem often missed while multitasking.”

Popular pleng phua chiwit artists include Caravan (staged a concert at Angkor Wat in 1990 and have since broken up), Carabou (Thailand's most popular rock band), Zuzu (recommended) and Pongsit Kamphee (very popular in the 1990s). Yuenyong Opaku is the popular the lead singer of Ad Carabao.

Western and Foreign in Music

Michael Jackson was very fond of Bangkok. When in town he stayed at the Oriental Hotel. He did a concert in Bangkok. INXS had a large followings and staged concerts in Bangkok from time to time. Honey is a Thai Madonna-clone and Tik Shro is a Thai Jackson impersonator.

"One Night in Bangkok" is a song originally sung by the British actor and pop-dance singer Murray Head and Swedish singer and songwriter Anders Glenmark on the 1984 concept album for the musical Chess. Its music was composed by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and its lyrics were written by Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus. In 1985, Thailand's Mass Communications Organization banned One Night in Bangkok, saying its lyrics "cause misunderstanding about Thai society and show disrespect towards Buddhism."

The release topped the charts in many countries, including South Africa, West Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It peaked at number 3 in both Canada and the United States in May, 1985,[1] and at number 12 in Head's native United Kingdom.

The government has cracked down on Filipino and Chinese singers and musicians working without work permits in an effort to create jobs for Thai singers.

Brazilian-style bossa nova jazz is popular in some Thai tourist spots and resorts. In the late 2000s a number of Brazilian jazz bands played in Thailand and bossa nova was highlighted at the Hua Hin jazz festival.

South Korean pop music (K-Pop) is very popular in Thailand. Fans, mostly girls in their teens and 20s, shell out $25 to $150 for groups like JYJ (three members of former TVXQ).

Vanessa-Mae

Vanessa-Mae is a pop violinist who was born in Singapore to an English hotelier of Thai descent and an English lawyer and semi-professional pianist. She was raised mostly in Britain. She began playing the piano at three and the violin at seven. She was the youngest person ever to attend the Royal College of Music and the youngest person ever to record Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos.

Vanessa-Mae was the fastest selling classical music artist in history. Violin-Player (1995) sold 3.5 million copies internationally. To promote it she did as video doing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in a wet T-shirt that clung enticingly close to her nymphet body.

Vanessa-Mae's musical performances have been described as "popsical". She appears in her videos wearing minishorts and leather stiletto boots and has done fashion shoots for Vogue and Tattler. She lives in London with her mother and stepfather and is escorted around in a chaffer-driven Jaguar. In the early 2000s she had three dogs, a chamaeleon and a cockatoo named Continuity Kay.

Vanessa-Mae Competes in 2014 Winter Olympics

Racing as Vanessa Vanakorn, her father’s name, and for his country Thailand, Vanessa-Mae came 67th and last in the women’s giant slalom. When the times for her two runs were added up she was more than 50 seconds slower than the winner, Tina Maze of Slovenia, and a dozen slower than the woman who finished in 66th place. [Source: Robin Scott-Elliot, The Independent, February 18, 2014]

“It’s so cool,” said Vanessa-Mae of achieving her dream to be an Olympian before she returns to the day job as a hugely successful classical musician. At 35 she was the oldest woman in the field. “You’ve got the elite skiers of the world and then you’ve got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down. I think it’s great the Olympics is here, it gives you the chance to try something new later in life.” Mae was happy with completing the course as a whole host of competitors failed to finish the two giant slalom runs

Koh Phangan Full-Moon Parties

All-night ecstacy-driven “full-moon” parties are held on Haad Rin beach on Koh Phangan near Koh Samui held each month on the night before or after every full moon. The events attract partiers from all over the world. Some draw tens of thousands of people to the island.

The first Full Moon Party was improvised at a wooden disco not far from the beach in 1985, and was attended by 20 to 30 travelers. The parties gained fame through word of mouth and became a must-attend event among backpackers traveling around South East Asia. The event now attracts a crowd of between 20,000 and 30,000 every full moon and continues past dawn the following day. Bars and DJs on the sunrise beach play psychedelic trance, drums and bass, house, dance and reggae music. Among the attractions are fire skipping ropes, alcohol 'buckets', and a drug culture. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Full Moon Party is more a bunch of small parties than one-large concert-like event. Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee wrote in The Nation: “The sheer variety of moon-theme parties on Phangan is amazing, each one touted on loud psychedelic flyers and posters all over the island — the Half Moon, the Black Moon, the Shiva Moon — and each one a bacchanal of all-night techno music, half-naked foreigners and unabashed drug and alcohol indulgence. Generated by huge loudspeakers, the dance music can shake the ground for a kilometre in all directions, and for years it seemed to have deafened everyone in authority to whom complaints were directed. [Source: Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee, The Nation, March 22, 2008]

Although the Full Moon Party generates a lot of money for locals not everyone on Koh Phangan likes the event. While it may be wild, once-in-a-lifetime happening for party-goers, for farmers and residents involved in everyday commerce—people who like to get to bed early—it can mean yet another sleepless night.

The Full Moon Party was featured in the films The Beach, Last Stop for Paul and the Thai film Hormones . It was also the subject of the first episode of the Comedy Central TV show Gerhard Reinke's Wanderlust . In 2011, the island's parties featured on Tourism and the Truth: Stacey Dooley Investigates , a documentary investigating the negative impacts of tourism on local people and the economy.

Koh Phangan

Ko Phangan (half hour boat ride and 15 kilometers north of Koh Samui) was once a quiet place but now it hard to come up with a place—during certain times anyway—that is any noisier. Dominated by backpackers, hippies and ravers from all over the globe, its famous for its ear-piercing and mind-numbing Full Moon parties—all-night-all ecstacy-driven dance events. Among the drugs available here are marijuana, heroin, magic mushrooms, ecstacy, opium, LSD, amphetamines and a variety of designer drugs. Many restaurants specialize in magic mushroom omelettes. If this doesn’t sound very appealing the island is big enough (190 square kilometers) there are plenty of quiet places. Many people come for both—some hard core partying followed or preceded by some relaxation time.

Located in the Gulf of Thailand a short boat ride from Koh Samui, Koh Phangan (pronounced pun-ngun) is a large, mountainous island covered with coconut trees and surrounded by white sand beaches and aquamarine waters. While each month thousands of young people flock to the world famous Full Moon Party in Haad Rin, where local and international DJs play music on the beach, there are dozens of other beaches in varying stages of development that are alternatively occupied by five-star beach resorts, budget beach bungalows, and a number of yoga, meditation, and health retreats.

Thong Sala is the main town. The center of the drug scene is Sunset Beach. The drug-infused Full Moon parties are nearby near the village of Hat Rin. "Ko Phangan's appeal lies in its combination of sun and near-total permissiveness," wrote Jeff Wise in the New York Times magazine. "Probably nowhere on earth have so many drugs been consumed so openly by so many for so long. Large in backpacker lore, Sunrise beach is no more than 300 yards long. The southern half fronts a rocky shore...Riddled with cigarette butts, soiled by dogs and rimmed with tideborn debris it maintains a ravaged dignity.

“A crowd of topless sunbathers clusters along the northern half, where the sand is soft and bleached white and slopes gently into the turquoise waters...A scruffy trio of Israelis follow the narrow dirt lane past rows of open-air shops down the water's edge, where a crowds is gathering. A German woman with brightly painted breasts pushes through to greet a group of white Rastas who are clambering down from a motor launch and wading ashore. A faint musk of marijuana graces the air...In a place like Ko Phangan, where the old Woodstock virtues of openness, generosity, and lack of purpose still hold sway, chronic vagrancy is badge of honor...Every year the scene there looks less and less like a "happening" and more and more like a psychedelic frat party."

Efforts to Shut Down the Koh Phangan Full-Moon Parties Early

Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee wrote in The Nation, “The fat-moon parties used to be lawless enough that huge signs advertising "special mushroom omelettes" and "amphetamine tea" were tolerated, but the local cops began cracking down on drugs and other craziness in the mid-1990s.” But the efforts didn’t produce lasting results. Later there were other attempts to limit collateral damage. “The administrators of Baan Tai School complained about the Black Moon party, and the event was moved into the dense woods of Baan Khai jungle - but attendance dropped, so it was promptly shifted back to its original location. There was considerable publicity when an irritated nun at Wat Khao Tham managed to shut down the Shiva Moon party, but then she mysteriously withdrew her objections and the techno-thunder resumed as usual. [Source: Oliver Benjamin and Phoowadon Duangmee, The Nation, March 22, 2008]

In 2008, “suddenly Koh Phangan's rave parties were shut down early. Residents of the village of Baan Tai wrote to the governor of Surat Thani complaining that the parties were depriving more than 100 households of sleep. "What's worse is the drug dealers who hang around the guesthouses pushing marijuana to the tourists on party nights," they said, adding that theft was becoming common and more sober-minded tourists were shunning the island.

“The police showed up at the Half Moon Party in Baan Tai and ordered the organisers to shut it down because it was "after hours". The next night they did the same at the Baan Sabai Day party. The exact cause for the policy change wasn't immediately known but, given the massive amounts of money involved, local residents are skeptical that the mandate will hold. "The governor of Surat Thani is concerned about the complaints," says Colonel Wuthichai Hanhaboon, head of the Koh Phangan Police Station, "so the police stopped several parties and ensured that the revellers would cause no trouble."

"We try to bring some order to the parties, but the organisers don't listen - they're making a fortune," says Threerayuth Plaisuwan, head of the civic administration in Baan Tai, home of the original full-moon parties. "They get Bt300 per ticket, and the corrupt authorities get a Bt100 cut to turn a blind eye to the problem." Thus, a handful of people on Phangan bank a bundle of cash from "techno-tourism" while the vast majority suffer the headaches and sleepless nights with nothing to show for it. "The communities earn hardly anything from the parties since we can't tax the organisers," Threerayuth says. "And then we have to pay for the beach clean-up afterwards too!"

A "party zone" has been suggested. Instead of staging the events in or near the central villages of Baan Tai, Baan Nok and Baan Nuea, organisers could get together and carve out a specific area in the dense jungle environs some distance away. Choosing a spot behind natural hillside would muffle the sound. Critics of the monthly noise assaults find it ironic that the raves are festooned with messages of multiculturalism, tolerance and "getting along". It's a message the locals wish the revellers would take to heart - so they can get a decent night's sleep.

Full-Moon Party Safety Issues

Although drugs are consumed by many partygoers, drug laws are strict and police enforcement is stepped up during the parties. There are undercover police on patrol and even the drug dealers themselves may report drug users to police. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of assaults and robberies at the party and in bars in the surrounding area, leading the British government to officially warn tourists to exercise caution at the Full Moon Parties. Break-ins at hotel bungalows while partygoers are away from their rooms sometimes occur as well. [Source: Wikipedia]

In January 2005, seven people were killed, including four foreign tourists (including an American and an Israeli) and 23 were injured, and 17 were missing after an overloaded speedboat capsized off Koh Samui. The boat was returning to Samui from an all-night party on Koh Phangan. Forty people were on the boat when it capsized a few kilometers from Koh Samui. The boat was not allowed to carry more than 30 people.

In July 2010, forty-two people were injured after two boats carrying Thai and foreign tourists collided near Pha-ngam island. The boats were ferrying tourist too and from the island’s “full moon” parties. The boats collided around midnight in rough seas during a rain storm.

The British Embassy in Thailand has warned that western tourists have been victims of vicious unprovoked attacks by gangs in Koh Phangan. "These attacks are particularly common around the time of the Full Moon parties and generally occur late at night near bars in Haad Rin. Exercise caution when walking in this area at any time, especially after dark."

Koh Phangan Full-Moon Party Murders

On New Years Eve 2012, 22-year-old British tourist Stephen Ashton was killed by a stray bullet. Victoria Ward wrote in the Telegraph, “Ashton was killed as he danced with friends at a beach bar on the popular island of Koh Phangan. He is believed to have been caught in the crossfire when an argument between two groups of youths suddenly escalated. [Source: Victoria Ward, the Telegraph, January 2, 2013]

Mr Ashton, a junior City trader, had quit his job in November and had planned to travel from Thailand to Australia. Local police spokesman Lt Col Somsak Noorod said: "He was shot in the side while he was dancing on the beach." He was rushed to Bandon International Hospital on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, but was later pronounced dead.

The suspect, named locally as Ekkapan Kaewkla, 26, was subsequently arrested and was found in possession of a homemade gun. On his arrest, Ekkapan admitted he had fought with another group of men at Zoom Bar but denied firing the fatal shot, according to local reports. A few days after the murder Ekkapan Kaewkla appeared in court. Police Colonel Kittakarn Kramothong, said: “Stephen was not involved in the fight.”

Around 300 revellers attended the Countdown party at the Zoom Bar on Haad Rin beach on Monday night. Witnesses said that two groups of Thai youths got into an argument which escalated into a fist-fight at around 4am. As one of the groups ran from the bar, one man turned and fired a shot back inside. Ashton was shot in the torso.Sophie Harwin, a graphics editor from Surrey, had spent the evening nearby but left the area before the shooting occurred. “I just met someone who said loads of people were trying to save him,” she said. “Very sad."

Mr Ashton had been staying with a group of friends at Pink's Bungalows, a series of basic wooden beachside properties in the fishing village of Ban Tai, not far from Haad Rin. He had posted a photograph of himself and two friends drinking beers in a Thai bar on Facebook on December 13.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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