[pinterest-pro type=”pinit” pin_url=”http://siam-longings.com/1uncategorized/morlam-vcd.htm” pin_image_url=”” pin_counter=”horizontal” pin_desc=”An examination of the VCD Morlam format — some background.”]
I often re-visit the Academic Film Archive website, wondering at all it has to say about the Morlam VCD Project, but I have never quite resolved just what the project is.
The Morlam VCD Project represents the first effort by western researchers to document this important song form, originally from the Isaan (Esarn) area of northeastern Thailand, and now popular in Bangkok as well.
Oh, certainly, I can understand that there was a musical programme that they put together and served to the U.S. public as a series of live performances in 2003. But is that all the Morlam VCD Project was? A musical show that was performed, but which was not preserved as a VCD or in any other format? In other words, there is no longer any record of it, apart from the Morlam Show Notes?
If so, this seems to me a dreadful waste of time and opportunity. Yet I am always left with the tease that there truly is a VCD record. Witness:
หมอลำ Morlam: the Music of Isaan… Documenting a musical form in VCD.
This program represents the first time a comprehensive program of Morlam music from Thailand has been introduced to Western audiences in the Western hemisphere. The music, we feel, is important, and a significant contributor to the continuity of Isaan culture in Thailand. These introductory notes provide a background to the music, its relationship to Isaan culture, the importance of documenting the music, and the challenges in documentation, from a Western perspective.
The importance of documenting the music
We are focusing on these morlam video CDs (VCDs) as an example of a music that should be documented, archived, and saved. In social context, these songs are similar to the “race-records” of 1920s-1940s African-Americans in the U.S., to whom music was as much a unifying cultural and communication element, as it was an art form. Already, we are noticing that many morlam VCDs are getting harder to find. As the music evolves and changes, many of these pieces, which document singers, songs, and stories, may soon be perceived as being “old”, with little future value commercially. If so, as digital storage technologies change with the times, many of these pieces may become lost. It is estimated by many experts that digital storage hardware has a usable life of roughly eight years, at which time the data must be transferred to the new format. Already, we have noticed color and resolution degradation in early morlam videos, which were originally made on VHS, then transferred to VCD. We have found many of these morlam pieces to be exceptional in music and visual content. As they document and serve an economic lower class, we are concerned that, as tastes change, there will be little financial impetus for music companies now making morlam VCDs, to ensure their survival.
But the only documenting the AFA did was produce their “show notes” — there is no actual audio/visual record that they compiled?
I can appreciate their Morlam Buyer’s List…but that is all the legacy of that show that they offer or have left for us?
Wikipedia also gives an excellent overview of the VCD recordings of Morlam music in their article on Mor lam:
As few mor lam artists write all their own material, many of them are extremely prolific, producing several albums each year. Major singers release their recordings on audio tape, CD and VCD formats. The album may take its name from a title track, but others are simply given a series number.
Mor lam VCDs can also often be used for karaoke. A typical VCD song video consists of a performance, a narrative film, or both intercut. The narrative depicts the subject matter of the song; in some cases, the lead role in the film is played by the singer. In the performance, the singer performs the song in front of a static group of dancers, typically female. There may be a number of these recordings in different costumes, and costumes may be modern or traditional dress; the singer often wears the same costume in different videos on the same album. The performance may be outdoors or in a studio; studio performances are often given a psychedelic animated backdrop. Videos from Laos tend to be much more basic, with lower production values.
Some of the most popular current artists are Banyen Rakgan, Chalermphol Malaikham, Jintara Poonlarp and Siriporn Ampaipong. In 2001, the first album by Dutch singer Christy Gibson was released. In 2007, Jonny Olsen released the first ever Mor lam album by a westerner or “Farang” in Laos.
It is also worth quoting from an article published April 23, 2012, titled Morlam music: an Isaan pastiche of city and country:
Morlam music, an infectious, riotous urban music originally from the Isaan northeast, is one of the predominant Thai musical genres you’ll find in Bangkok today. With its raging organ ostinados, high-flying guitar riffs, and rap-like vocal phrasing, morlam can be heard in street stalls, Thai bars, and taxi radios and VCD (video CD) players. A live morlam show may include dancers, up to dozens in number, sporting plumed headdresses, sarongs, tennis shoes, you name it, just as long as it’s festive.Often referred to as “Thai country music”, along with its close cousin “lukthung,” you can hear morlam live at venues such as Tawan Daeng, and all stalls selling Thai music will have morlam CDs and VCDs (labeled “karaoke”) for sale, featuring morlam stars such as Jintara Poonlarb, Banyen Rakkaen, Doakfah Phetpuphan, and Rojaná Sarakham.
Non-Isaan Thais often express embarrassment at the popularity of morlam with Westerners, in much the same way that many mainstream-society people in the U.S. felt about early 1900s New Orleans jazz, which was heard primarily in bordellos. Lao people, on the other hand, generally love the music, which they’ll often claim as being originally Lao.If possible, obtain the VCD versions of morlam CDs, which show the pageantry, the musicians, and acted sequences depicting the lyrics. Some of the more popular morlam singers also sing other forms of popular Thai music. These would include Jintara Poonlarb and Siriporn Umpaipong. On the other hand, singers such as Banyen Rakkaen and Rochana Sarakham tend to sing morlam almost exclusively. Overall, the best way to buy morlam is to buy something you enjoy hearing as you’re walking by a music stall.
The review website Morlam Luktung gives this advice concerning VCDs:
What if I don’t know Thai/Isan/Lao?
Frankly, you’re not missing much. Mor lam and luk tung are short on singer-songwriters with pithy, perceptive comments on contemporary life. Most of the songs are ballads, and like popular songs everywhere concern themselves primarily with unrequited love. All the major artists in Thailand and Laos release their material on VCD as well as CD, so the story can be picked up as easily from the video as from the words.
Where can I buy mor lam and luk tung?
In Thailand, you can buy CDs and VCDs of the major artists in almost any record shop, or even in the 7-11. Mor lam and luk tung are almost always in the same section, often labelled “Thai country”, or “Thai traditional”, and in any case easily recognised by the garish album covers. This is a very short-term industry though, so anything more than a couple of years old is normally hard to find. Outside Thailand, you can order them from any number of online retailers, such as ethaicd, thaimegamart or thainetcity.
Should I buy CDs or VCDs?
Both. Start with VCDs, as the videos are a great help with understanding the songs. If you want to listen to an album properly, though, you need to get the CD as well: the VCDs are designed for karaoke and so have the vocal track on one channel only. Fortunately VCDs and CDs are both cheap (about 180 and 150 baht respectively), and some albums even come in packages with the same songs on both formats.
Here are a few further related links I am adding in a June 11 (2012) post edit:
Lukthung & Morlam – Thai country music … The concert tracks at the end of the VCD version are well worth a look, this girl is a star, so nice not to hear yet another new singer trying to do a Tai Orathai!- mr Bonkers …
Publish Date: 10/31/2007 2:48
It starts off with a great morlum track “Jintara ab baew” featuring Eed Pong Larng Sa-orn which in many way acts as a relaunch of Jintara ready for this new phase of her long career. I prefer the following track however “Tanakarn narm tar” with it’s slow and brooding beat moving … I bought the VCD last year then she gave us CD’s at a garage stop and bought us some food. Some think Jin puts on a false front but she really is a sincere and lovely person, and still one of …
Publish Date: 05/26/2008 0:42
I have three further suggestions for a website called Ear Sphere. However, please notice that this pops up when any downloads are clicked:
Scary, eh? Keeping us all safe.
Anyway, if you want to check out the three picks I have, I will offer them now — just be discretionary. For all I know, anyone who clicks on one of those download links might be having their specific ISP location captured:
Morlam VCD. A Brief Introduction to Molam (หมอลำ) Molam (หมอลำ, Mor lam, Morlum) Music is a traditional form from Southern Laos and the Isan Region of Thailand. Molam literally translates to “expert song,” or “expert singer …
Publish Date: 07/21/2011 12:52
Another Morlam VCD from Thailand. These guys are huge in the Isan Molam scene, with a prolific set of releases. The video shows the “full” band playing in a variety of Scenic settings, i put “full” in scare-quotes because, like …
Publish Date: 08/09/2011 9:07
Now, some morlam videos i’m pretty sure are from Lao, the Language they’re speaking is Lao, which admittedly isn’t uncommon for Isan Morlam, but pretty sure the record co. is Lao. To add further confusion, some of the scenic backdrops appear to be in Lao and some in Thailand … I think i have three more videos off this VCD buried somewhere, as always more to come…. Don’t forget to put yr greasy earballs onto my new blog as well… Incredible Images and Audio of …
Publish Date: 08/12/2011 16:05
Banyen Raggan – Ratchani Lookthung Morlam – (9)
Uploaded by nayton7777 on Dec 12, 2009
Banyen Raggan – Ratchani Lookthung Morlam
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