The following is fromThe Rough Guide to Thailand(Sixth Edition), and is the best background description on luk thung that I have yet come across:
Go to one of the huge luk thungshows held in a temple or local stadium on the outskirts of Bangkok, or to any temple fair in the countryside, and you’ll hear one of the great undiscovered popular musics of Asia. The shows, amid the bright lights, foodstalls and fairground games, last several hours and involve dozens of dancers and costume changes. In contrast with luk grung, luk thung (literally, “child of the field”) has always been associated with the rural and urban poor, and because of this has gained nationwide popularity over the past forty years.
According to luk thung DJ Jenpope Jobkrabunwan, the term was first coined by Jamnong Rangsitkuhn in 1962, but the first song in the style was Oh Jow Sow Chao Rai (Oh, the Vegetable Grower’s Bride), recorded in 1937, and the genre’s first big singer, Kamrot Samboonanon, emerged in the mid-1940s. Originally called pleng talat (market songs) or pleng chiwit(songs of life),the style blended together folk songs (pleng phua bahn), central Thai classical music and Thai folk dances (ram wong). Malay strings and fiddles were added in the 1950s, as were Latin brass and rhythms like the cha-cha-cha and mambo (Asian tours by Xavier Cugat influenced many Asian pop styles during the 1950s), as well as elements from Hollywood movie music and “yodelling” country and western vocal styles from the likes of Gene Autry and Hank Williams. In 1952, a new singer, Suraphon Sombatjalern, made his debut with a song entitled Nam Da Sow Vienne(Tears of the Vientiane Girl) and became the undisputed king of the style until his untimely murder (for serious womanizing, rumour has it) in 1967. Sombatjalern helped develop the music into a mature form, and was known as the “King” of the genre, along with his Queen, sweet-voiced Pongsri Woranut.
Today, luk thung is a mix of Thai folk music and traditional entertainment forms like likay (travelling popular theatre), as well as a range of Western styles. There are certainly some strong musical affinities with other regional pop styles like Indonesian dangdut and Japanese enka, but what is distinctly Thai – quite apart from the spectacular live shows – are the singing styles and the content of the lyrics. Vocal styles are full of glissando, wavering grace notes and wailing ornamentation. A singer must have a wide vocal range, as the late luk thung megastar Pompuang Duangjan explained: “Making the luk thung sound is difficult, you must handle well the high and low notes. And because the emotional content is stronger than in luk grung, you must also be able to create a strongly charged atmosphere.”
Pompuang had the kind of voice that turns the spine to jelly. She rose to prominence during the late 1970s, joining Sayan Sanya as the biggest male and female names in the business. Like Sombatjalern, both came from the rural peasantry, making identification with themes and stories that related directly to the audience much easier. Songs narrate mini-novellas, based around typical characters like the lorry driver, peasant lad or girl, poor farmer, prostitute or maid; and the themes are those of going away to the big city, infidelity, grief, tragedy and sexual pleasure. Interestingly, it is not always the lyrics that carry the sexual charge of the song (and if lyrics are deemed too risqué by the authorities the song will be subject to strict censorship) but rather the vocal style and the stage presentation, which can be very bawdy indeed.
With the advent of TV and the rise in popularity of string, the number of large upcountry luk thung shows has declined. It’s not easy, said Pompuang, to tour with over a hundred staff, including the dancers in the hang kruang(chorus). “We play for over four hours, butstring bands, with only a few staff members, play a paltry two hours!” Her response to the advent of string and the increasing importance of promotional videos was to develop a dance-floor-oriented sound – electronic luk thung. Few luk thungsingers are capable of this, but Pompuang had the vocal range to tackle both ballad forms and the up-tempo dance numbers. Her musical diversification increased her popularity enormously, and when she died in 1992, aged only 31, up to 200,000 people, ranging from royalty to the rural poor, made their way to her funeral in her home town of Suphanburi.
Since Pompuang’s death, the top luk thung slot has been occupied by “Got” Chakrapand Arbkornburi, whose switch from pop to full-time luk thunghas brought many younger listeners to the style, while the reigning female singer wasSuranee Ratchasima but she has been superseded by the perkier Arpaporn Nakornsawan. Mike Piromporn, originally a mor lam man, is Got’s main challenger. Bangkok’s first 24-hour luk thung radio station, Luk Thung FM (at 90 FM), was launched in 1997, and it’s even hip for the middle class to like luk thung these days. Listeners have been snapping up collections of luk thung classics, and several veteran singers have relaunched their careers, including Sodsai Rungphothong, who had a monster two-million seller with his Rak Nong Porn album. A new generation of singers has also emerged, with artists like Monsit Kamsoi, Yingyong Yodbuangarm, Yui Yardyuh,Tai Orathai and Fon Thanasunthorn. There is some truth, however, in the criticism that some new luk thung stars are being artificially manufactured just like their pop and rock counterparts, and there’s a tendency to rate a pretty face over vocal expertise.
For many years, luk thung was sung by performers from the Suphanburi area in the central plains, but more regional voices are being heard in the genre now, with northeasterners now outnumbering these singers. A slightly faster rhythm, luk thung Isaan, has developed, led initially by Pimpa Pornsiri, who called the style luk thung prayuk. The south, too, has its own luk thung star, in the enormously popular Ekachai Srivichai. But the most surprising development has been the emergence of not one but two blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigners singing luk thung and mor lam. First up is Swede Manat “Jonas” Andersson, who rose to national prominence with his debut album, Pom Cheu Jonas – he’s already a fixture on the luk thung circuits; meanwhile, Anglo-Dutch singer Kristy Gibson sings mainly luk thung Isaan and mor lam.
In another post, I commented on how prevalent karaoke-type music videos seemed to be, as opposed to the type of music videos that we’re accustomed to in the West. We tend to want to focus on the artist(s) rendition of the song, and don’t fancy having intrusive lyrics floating across the screen. Neither do we like a soundtrack that’s been clearly tampered with to minimize the vocals of the original artist(s); or else to disassociate the original artist(s) vocals from the instrumentals of the song. In karaoke, this treatment is done to make it possible to blot out the original artist(s) in order for the aspiring ‘performer’ to assume vocal preeminence — and rarely for the better, of course.
I couldn’t understand why it seemed that there was such a dearth of the style of music video that we in the West appreciate, and a dominance of the karaoke-style music video.
I now have a better understanding of that prevalence, thanks to this excellent description fromMadeLoud.com:
Luk Thung is sometimes described as Thai country music. Lyrically, it usually focuses on the plight of rural dwellers coming to the big city, or on tales of lost love and heartbreak. Musically…well, there isn’t really any one way to describe it musically. Typical sounds include big band horns, stinging electric guitar, traditional Thai instruments, synthesizers, and a chugging garagey vibe associated with a regional music style known as morlum. There are even dance remixes. Luk thung, in other words, can be almost anything; it’s one of the most eclectic and omnivorous genres on the planet.
Luk thung is hugely popular in Thailand, but the style hasn’t traveled much internationally. That means, unfortunately, that for a non-Thai speaker it’s difficult to track down CDs, or even to download files.
Which is where videos come in. Karaoke is a passion in Thailand, and many successful performers get their start by participating in singing contests, lending their voice to the backing of a currently popular hit. As a result, Thai pop is often distributed by VCD discs — a sub-DVD visual format. The VCDs are mastered so that the singers voice comes through one channel but not the other, making it easy to listen to the music and singer together, or to drop out the lyrics and sing along yourself.
The original impetus for making this a video format was presumably to allow singers to see the lyrics scroll across the screen. But, and of course, as long as you’ve got the video to begin with, you might as well put on a show. As a result, virtually every Thai song has a video. And the vast majority of those, it seems, have made their way to YouTube.
As you might imagine, when you’re making videos for every single song you record, you don’t necessarily throw money at each one as if you’re Lady Gaga. Instead, you work on the cheap. Thus, all the videos for a given album tend to look like they were shot at the same time using the same settings. Not infrequently, the performers even show up wearing the same clothes — both saving on costumes and emphasizing their countryish, plain-folks bona fides.
The link to the above quote is for a feature called Thai Luk Thung Videos, Part 2 — I recommend checking it out, along with the companion featureThai Luk Thung Videos, Part 2.
I stumbled across a blog site that provides reviews of a number of the older albums in this and other Thai music categories — very entertaining! Give it a look: Monrak Pleng Thai.
I’ve listed other links of note in related posts on this blog that should be easily enough located using the Categories feature.
And one day, as I’ve said before, I’m going to attempt my own reviews!
Image via Wikipedia
Bangkok Taxi with Jintara Poonlarp – Thailand – Tailandia
Praticamente todos os carros da Tailandia rodam ouvindo musica tipica tailandesa. Para ilustrar a situacao, apresentamos as ruas de Bangkok + Jintara Poonlarp, famosa cantora de Luk Thung (musica tipica tailandesa).
Jintara Poonlarp (Thai: จินตหรา พูนลาภ, also Poonlab, b. March 12, 1971, in Kaset Wisai District, Roi Et Province, Thailand) is a Thai mor lam, luk thung and pop music singer. She is one of the most popular and prolific of the artists in the mor lam (Thai country) and luk thung (Thai pop-country) genres, having released 40 original albums as well as many compilations. She records roughly equal amounts of mor lam and luk thung, but two of her best-known songs are the string (Thai pop) hits “Ma Tammai” and “Faen Ja,” recorded with Bird McIntyre. She is also sometimes known by her nickname Jin or the epithet sao siang pin (Thai: สาวเสียงพิณ, meaning “lute-voiced girl”).
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