Books + CDs
The traditional music of Thailand
written by INGO STOEVESANDT
Besides the modern aspects of pop music and Karaoke, the actual geographical and political borders of Thailand cover a wide variety of musical traditions of different origins, and before some of these will be described, some basic facts about the "Thai" should be kept in mind:
Speaking of the "Thai" actually means speaking about members of the Tai-Kadai language family, which consists of six subgroups, defined by their geographical settlement:
- The western Thai (Shan) - The Southern Thai (Siamese) - The Mekong Thai (Lao, etc)
- The Upland Thai ("Coloured" Thai) - The Eastern Thai (Nung, etc) - The Kadai (Li, Kelao, Laqua)
This way we can find many members of this language family in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Combined with the musical traditions of the members of these groups, the appearance of the musicla traditions is best described by splitting it up into the four areas of music of the South, central, North (Lan na) and Northeast (Isaan) of Thailand.
Each of this regions knows indigenous habits and influencies, whether it is the court music of central Thailand, the famous fingernail dance of the North or the shadow puppet theatre in Southern Thailand. In each region, village and court traditions have to be viewed seperately,
from the perspective of their modern appearance today.
Speaking of influencies, the modern "Thai" culture in Thailand presents itself as a mixture of indigenous habits with those brought in by Mon, Khmer and also Chinese imigrants. The shifting of the location of the capital city marks the historical phrases in Thailand:
Starting from the 12th century, Chiang Mai and Sukothai were the first cities to culminate cultural and political power, followed by the golden age of Ayutthaya around 1350, in which the Siamese defeated powerful Angkor Wat in 1431. When the first French colonists showed up in the 16th century, Siam soon decided to be a free block between British Burma in the west and French "Indochina" in the east, which is also important for the modern Thai self identity. When the Burmese defeated Ayutthaya in 1767, the new capital moved to Thonburi (Bangkok), in which the era of kings (Rattanakosin) still rule today.
Traditional Thai music may be looked at as being "well reserached" if compared to other countries in Asia. It was displayed on the first world exhibition in France in 1869, followed by several European researchers coming to Thailand, as well as kings and members of the court wrote books and articles about theatre, dance and the "classical" music, a term which does not really work, as "classic" better translates as "of high value" if it is about Thai music, and the "court" traditions have been opened to the public and actually get taught to everyone, including performances even outside the court.
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