Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan (2005)

«Compilers Alan Bishop and Mark Gergis (of American bands Sun City Girls and Neung Phak, respectively) use the word "groove" advisedly in the title of their new release. Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan doesn’t have a single cut that would fit in on a collection of funk dusties, but a great number of these rustic tracks definitely impart head-nodding bliss.

The term molam represents a group of rural musical styles from Southern Laos and Northeastern Thailand, but this CD focuses mainly on the lam phun and lam sing substyles during what Gergis calls "a pivotal time when the music of the region began to be electrified and integrated with Western instruments" in the 1970s and 80s. It’s a period that roughly overlaps with an era of timeless funk recordings from Africa, and listening to this disc for the first time is similar to getting your first taste of Fela Kuti or Ethiopian jazz.

There’s a heady energy captured on murky tape as these regional folk sounds first slither from amplifiers. Fat, looping bass lines and electric guitar arpeggios find their place alongside indigenous percussion elements and khaen (bamboo mouth organ). Commanding male and female vocalists speak-sing in cadences and scales not far removed from those of Fela. Nothing is codified yet and there are moments in the early cuts when pieces of the Isan harmonic sensibility clearly don’t fit into the Western pop puzzle. This is where the similarity with Africa ends: while African musicians must have found it relatively easy to retrofit the blues-descended styles of their American cousins for their own purposes back in the motherland, the Isan fusions are the result of more exotic engineering. Like the Filipinos with their national mode of transport, the jeepney, Molam pop musicians take a Western construction, trick it out almost beyond recognition and then take you for a ride.

It’s not all groove on this disc, though. There’s also a smattering of look thung, a slower style which, like enka in Japan, is sometimes compared to country music in America. If you’ve ever been to Thailand you’ve probably heard it. It’s nice that this style is also represented, but it’s less a revelation than the early, gritty lam phun and lam sing recordings, the likes of which I’ve never heard before – the sort of revelation that the Sublime Frequencies label provides regularly.» (The Far Eastern Audio Review)

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Radu said...


drfeelgoed said...

Many thanks as this molam album is not available here in Thailand!

Anonymous said...

thank you thank you thank you!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much, been looking for this for a while!

idioblast said...

I would LOVE to get ahold of Volume 2 if you've got it lying around some place. This is such a great blog! Thanks for everything.

Kratzersprung said...

please reup