Genres

Luk Thung (ลูกทุ่ง)

Thai country music found in the central plains.

 

Often described as the country or folk music of central Thailand, Luk Thung (literally “Child of the Fields” song) only developed as a genre after World War II as a blending together of traditional Thai genre with western music notation and instruments, which during the early 20th century was popularly known as Phleng Thai Sakon (เพลงไทยสากล). Suphanburi, a province in the central Thai rice plains, became the centre of Luk Thung music, producing many major artists, including Suraphol Sombatcharoen, and Pumpuang Duangjan. The genre was popularised in the northeastern region, having from its beginnings drawn upon Molam musical traditions and the northeastern Isan language.

 

Luk Thung songs often reflect cultural aspects of rural society.  It is recognizable by the local accents sung with vibrato and harmonized with western brass and electronic sounds mixed with some Thai instruments such as the bamboo mouth-organ Khaen (แคน) and Phin (พิณ), a kind of pear-shaped lute. 

Molar (หมอลำ)

Lao-style song found in Isan (north-eastern Thailand).

 

Originating in Laos but prevalent in ethnically Lao Isan (northeast Thailand), most lam (ลำ) songs use a poetic verse form (glawn กลอน) where a flexible melody is tailored to language word-tones. Molam (หมอลำ) originally referred to just the skilful singer but today it also means  the music genre. Traditional molam music features the khaen (แคน), a free-reed bamboo pipe instrument, as accompaniment, though songs of this genre these days often turn to electrified instruments. 

 

While traditional forms of molam tend to be rather slow, contemporary molam songs have quick tempi with rapid delivery and are noted for strong rhythmic accompaniment, vocal leaps, and a conversational style of singing that can be compared to American rap.

 

Typically, molam songs reflect the difficulties of life in rural Isan and Laos, often satirically.  Performances are an essential part of Isan festivals and ceremonies, while elsewhere the spread of migrant workers from Isan has made this music genre more widely known and popular.

Lae (แหล่อีสาน)

A sung style of Buddhist preaching.

 

Often described as a sung style of Buddhist preaching, Lae (แหล่อีสาน) is a melodic and expressive vocalism for reciting sacred texts and sometimes sermons.  While Buddhist monks themselves are prohibited from singing,  Lae can be heard sung at festivals of all kinds in Thailand’s northeast region (Isan).  The songs are composed in klon (กลอน), a form of Thai poetry much used by Sunthorn Phu, Thailand’s best-known royal poet (1786 – 1855), a form of which is also found in molam music.  Like so many facets of Isan culture, Lae has greatly influenced modern Central Thailand with the development  of Luk Thung (ลูกทุ่ง) music.

Thai Classical (เพลงไทยเดิม)

An 800 years old oral tradition within the royal courts of central Thailand.

 

The Piphat (ปี่พาทย์) ensemble, the most common and iconic form of classical music of Thai (or Siam) tradition, is highly influenced by other oriental genres; yet today’s classical ensembles are uniquely Thai.  Traditional Thai classical repertoire is anonymous, handed down through an oral tradition of performance in which the names of composers (if, indeed, pieces were historically created by single authors) are not known. However, since the beginning of the modern Bangkok period, composers' names have been known and , since around 1900, many major composers have set out their works in notation. Musicians, however, imagine these compositions and notations as generic forms which are realized in full in idiosyncratic variations and improvisations in the context of performance.

A Piphat ensemble comes is various sizes. The smallest (6 instruments) includes pi nai (ปี่ใน oboe); ranat ek (ระนาดเอก xylophone); khong wong yai (ฆ้องวงใหญ่ gong circle); taphon (ตะโพน) or other Thai drums; glong thad (กลองทัด), a set of two large barrel drums beaten with sticks; and ching (ชิง) small cymbals). Often other small percussion instruments such as krap or chap are used.  

Larger ensembles (8 instruments) add the ranat thum (xylophone), which produces a deeper sound than the ranat ek, and khong wong lek, a gong circle that is higher in pitch than the the ranat thum (xylophone), which produces a deeper sound than the ranat ek, 

Talung (เพลงตะลุง)  

 

Traditional southern Thai music.

 

Perhaps developed from Malay and Indonesian origins, talung music (เพลงตะลุง) morphed into the accompaniment for the nangtalung (หนังตะลุง) shadow-puppet theatre. Forerunner of the cinema, nangtalung was a popular form of community entertainment in the South and, later, in other regions of Thailand. The simple, improvised musical accompaniment to the voice of the puppeteer-cum-narrator increased the dramatic mood, comic, sad, angry, love, fear and so forth, in the same way that music soon became an essential element in the cinema. 

 

Often performed by only one or two musicians, talung music features percussion instruments, such as hand-drum (กลอง), tiny bell-like cymbals (ching ชิง), one or two Thai violins (saw-u ซออู้ saw-duang ซอด้วง) and sometimes a pentatonic  pitched xylophone (ranat ระนาด).