Luk Thung, Thai Funk, and Sita Sings The Blues

Initial experiences with my chosen field site in one word: Revelation.

Luk Thung, or literally translated to child of the fields, is the genre of Thai music I will be auto-ethnographically investigating, along with some of its relating and neighbouring genres. For lack of a better description, let’s call it Thai folk music, however I’ll later get into why I believe it’s far more than that.

You’re probably thinking, why the hell would someone choose to investigate Thai folk music? Sita Sings The Blues, that’s why. However, please don’t be mistake – I despised the film. I wholly and openly accept there was probably a deep and well thought out plot beneath the madness, however my brain simply couldn’t handle the visual mess the film presented, destroying any opportunity to enjoy – or even understand – the film. There was just one element that saved it for me, one element that could even be enjoyed if one shut their eyes (ขอบคุณพระเจ้า), and that’s the soundtrack of Annette Hanshaw.

(Peep a taste of the film and Annette Hanshaw’s work)

I’d like to think I’m a wide listener of music as a whole, and this film’s score only widened that listening scope. Although Hanshaw is American, AND the music she produced for SSTB has some strong Western influece, it’s the sound she birthed for this film that inspired my research. My ears sent thanks for the warm production pairing beautifully with the bright, angelic vocals, and it’s impossible to not love plentiful use of the sitar.

Enough drooling, now some inspiration had formed. I searched high and low for the genre I wanted to look at, until I finally landed in South-East Asia. The epiphany came while listening to the record of one of my favourite bands in the world – Khruangbin. They actually genre themselves as Thai Funk, which isn’t exactly Luk Thung, but there’s some undeniable links there.

(Enjoy them on this funky number via Night Time Stories)

For the sake of a flowing research process, I’ll be limiting my field sites (as the scope of the genre is rather broad) to some of the sub-genres of Luk Thung that are a little more niche, and contain some interesting links to my own personal tastes.

My main focus will be a record, or compilation, called The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam in Thailand 1954-1975. It’s more-or-less a mixtape of traditional Luk Thung, along with some groovy variations, some a little more jazzy, and some with a psych-rock edge you’d otherwise find on a Pink Floyd track.

I was able to give the compilation a thorough rinsing as my Sunday mornings are traditionally spent by putting on an album and listening through as I nurse a hangover or make a big breakfast, which is exactly what I did.

What’s interesting is my own pre-research interpretation of the sound of the songs (obviously not the lyrical interpretation as I don’t speak Thai) somewhat matched the supposed meaning of the music, which is hardship, pain even. It’s the music of the working people, those in the farm, or the field (child of the field)… and I felt that! Or at least something along those lines. I found it incredible that music with such beauty in the loud, high-pitched vocals can carry such a melancholy meaning.

This is something I look forward to investigating further through my auto ethnographic research, because:

  1. The music rules
  2. The music rules
  3. I want to know more about Luk Thung and the craziness in its history and meaning.

Stay tuned Thai jazzers…

 

 

 

 

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