Monday, 26 August 2019


Esan:Cultures and tradition

I always been thinking that if you really get deep into your passion for music, you end up at concerts where you are the only one in the audience... That's exactly what happened to me with molam, none of my friends (all seriously into music) would understand it and I ended up in Thailand, alone at concerts... Well, when I say alone, I mean the only white guy... In the middle of thousands of the greatest people I could imagine...
 I don't have any friends in Esan, I  have a family...

A Phet Phin Thong version of Esan baan hao "Esan our home"
performed by Thepphon Phetubon.

After spending 5 years in Thailand I finally get the time to look back at the unique experience I lived there. Esan, Thailand and more globally Southeast Asia fascinated me, such a huge amount of living cultures and traditions, religious and folk arts, music, dances, theatrical performances... Not the kind of treasures you would find in most western countries. Not the main interest of the millions of people visiting each year.
Esan creativity: Bun bang fai / phi ta khon/ thian khao phansa
(work in progress)
I sadly could not continue to maintain this page (after my second cassette deck broke). I kept myself busy traveling all around, enjoying moments shared with Esan friends, collecting memories and music and deeply documenting the Esan music scene. I lived a unique experience as there was almost never any other westerners around (except a few tourists during the biggest events of the year).

Molam living legends P.Chalatnoi Songsoem and Chawiwan Damnoen  during (probably) the biggest molam wai khru  (respect to the teacher ritual) ever performed.

Honestly, the main purpose of this page, always been to put together information to:
Help people to access Esan music at decent price (some of those recordings being the cheapest music you can imagine).
Help people who visit Thailand to enjoy live Esan music at real Esan places in safe and convenient conditions.
Help people to discover the rich musical traditions and mind blowing cultural heritage from Esan which are perfectly integrated to modern life.
And, most of all, to give a point of view on molam and Esan people with no kind of relationship with anything surrealist you can read pretty much everywhere else!

Duanphen Amnuayphon: Phun muang Esan 
"local (cultures and traditions) from Esan"

I now get the time to share my point of view on the incredible Esan music scene and that my brothers and sisters call MOLAM... Well not only!
My priority is to counterattack the 90% of the fake information that discredit the traditions and culture of Esan people as I consider those of an extremely valuable intangible heritage which needs to be honestly documented to be preserved correctly. 
Since the development of foreign "cultural" scams, it became an emergency!
Filthy retards spreading fake information for the only purpose of profit clearly denigrate Esan people and their cultures at an international level while most non Esan people can't access a divergent  and honest point of view.
Ratree Sriwilai, mother of the molam sing scene.

If I would not have much troubles talking about molam for hours I'll rather focus here on the scammers who spread their retarded lies and practice clueless neo-colonialist revisionism when they talk about what should be considered as THE MOST IMPRESSIVE POPULAR MUSIC SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY!
Boy Sirichai "molam more than anything"

I'll base my descriptions and built my point of view on my personal experience of:
-Hundreds of hours of Esan music performances and concerts. I saw over 200 mo lam performing each year during the last few years as well as all kinds of musical performances, all kinds of dances and theatrical performances as well as religious and cultural events. I also attended the 5 biggest events in the history of molam (none of the self claimed specialists have a clue about such events).
-My collection of 250000 photos of Esan musical culture (by far the most important fund existing on the subject).
looks like I've been spotted...
-My collection of Esan music recordings of all kinds and forms which is probably one of the 10 biggest existing... 15 or 20 times bigger than what has been randomly collected by mister peter doolan (“monrak pleng thai” and “khun narin electric phin band”) who obviously have very little clue about what he lies about! We'll talk about that guy and his little friends later.
Music shopping

I spent 5 years actively involved in the "molam scene", as the scene have no equivalents elsewhere, it's important to describe it:
I personally consider the hard core “molam scene” as a group of over 100000 people who all have in common the fact they spend at least 150h (some of us up to 1000h!) per year around a molam stage (musicians, singers, dancers, fans...).
7 am, somewhere in Esan with my brothers and sisters

This “molam scene” group is clearly culturally identitarian without any kind of discrimination, no racism and practically no kind of interest for western culture or music.
The molam scene is quasi-exclusively composed of Buddhist people of Lao origins (from Esan, or of ancestors who migrated from Laos to various parts of Thailand).
From all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds (most of them proudly keeping their rural traditions), From all genders and ages (it's usual to see 5 generations of people attending molam performances in Esan...) If you can walk you can dance! If you can't walk, some people will help you...
The most involved group within the scene can be seen a huge family composed mostly of gay men and trans gender ladies aged between 20 and 45 years old. All party hard people, dancers, singers or fans attending concerts in groups of various sizes that often travel all around the country for concerts, religious celebrations or traditional cultural events. It's without much possible doubts the largest gay* cultural community in the world.
*known in Thailand as "kratoye".
hard-core molam fans during a monk ordination procession

The molam scene is passionate, devoted, generous, proud, sincere, honest, Buddhist, fraternal, solidary, humble, philanthropist and sometimes extravagant... Some of the nicest people I ever met!
There is only one westerner I know who has been involved in the molam scene, it's me...
So basically the large majority of the crap you can read in English about molam is pure fantasy!

Another version of "Esan our home" performed at a TV show
After the song, Banyen Rakkhaen salute the beauty and the talent of the singers.

What is molam? A few simple facts...
If during the last 10 years the word “molam” seems to have spread all around the world, helped by the devotion of “super heroes”, “cultural saviors”, “music specialists” and other self pretending "geniuses of experimental music". It's strange to note that none of those “experts” ever showed a point of view anywhere close to accurate and that they remain totally unknown in the molam scene...
Lam klon performed in a temple

-Molam is a form of vocal tradition and oral transmission.
-Molam is one of the main traits of the culture and identity of people from various groups known as “Lao”. Those people migrated during the last 3 millenniums from the actual northern parts of Vietnam and neighboring southern China to the mainlands of Laos, Northeastern Thailand (Esan), Bangkok, central Thailand... Some of their traditions and cultural practices (food, music...) have been well preserved since prehistoric ages!
-The term "molam" refers to the "lam" performed by Esan people while in Lao it's the terms “lam” or “lam Lao” refers to the lam performed in Laos.

detail from a Laotian T.shirt
-Story telling (theatrical forms) of lam usually focus on Buddhist mythology (Ramayana) and folk tales. Other forms (local, modern and hybrid) usually talk about Esan Identity, Esan food, Buddhism in Esan, lifestyle of Esan people, nature and farming in Esan, traditions and festivities, life of the labour migrants...
As mentioned before, molam have no kind of hostility for anyone but very little interest for western cultures as Esan people already have their own fascinating cultures. 
Merit making with friends in Esan

-The earliest documents relating to the existence of molam (over 250 years old manuscripts) present it as a form of mythological story telling closely related to other forms of Buddhist chanting, monk prayers recitation, palm leaves book readings, blessings...
As all the related forms are all purely A Capella it's possible to imagine it could have been the same for lam at some points.

Monks praying and monks calling for the prayers

-The term MOLAM describe the expert “mo” in recitating ancient forms of manuscript texts “lam”.
-Molam can be divided in various forms. To keep things easy to understand, I'll classify those in 4 main forms (all having various genres and sub genres):
Storytelling “lam ruang” (ex: lam phune, lam ruang to klon, lam phloen). Performed in large groups, generally  all night long.
Repartee “lam klon” (ex: lam klon, lam klon prayuk, lam sing). Such forms generally feature a couple of mo lam (man/woman) interacting together with a mo khaen in between (not always actually playing).
Local forms (ex: lam phutai, lam tangwai, lam khonsavane). Those forms are originally from specific Lao provinces and are performed by solo mo lam (with various kinds of music ensembles, solo khaen or fiddle). Each form have it's own traditional dance. Some of those forms are particularly popular in Esan and are the roots of modern and hybrid forms of lam (some forms are quasi exculively performed in Laos).
“Radio formats” (this term is a personal classification made to keep things simple): I regroup here all the forms created or modified to fit a +/-3mn "radio format" as well as all the hybrid forms (ex: lam doen Kon Khaen prayuk, lam phaen, lam toei prayuk). Such “formatted” formats (in matter of length) are proper to Esan recordings and doesn't often apply to lam Lao (probably because the production of 7' records has been minimal in Laos). It's the starting point of many distinctive new forms of lam from Esan that will appear later with the development of tape cassettes.
A bunch of Laotian tapes
-Many genres and sub genres of lam exist, there is no accurate list of all those genres as many hybrid forms been created during the second part of the 80's and during the 90's (some of those forms only existing on a very few recordings).
-There is of course no existing forms of instrumental molam.
-The khaen (another main trait of the identity of Lao people) is pretty much always associated with molam by westerners. It's by far not accurate, kind of a cliché spread by clueless people as molam and khaen come from very distinct periods of time. The earliest documents on the existence of khaen(s) date back to prehistory and early practitioners of khaen don't associate it to any kind of vocal practices.
If some "traditional" forms of lam are pretty often performed with a khaen, none of those forms are sold by the “self claimed specialists” who spread an idea of molam with no links with reality.
A group of young mo khaen on parade
-The modern version of the earliest described form of lam known as “lam ruang to klon” (story telling in verses) is either performed with a keyboard or playback khaen recordings, in fewer cases a khaen or a saw fiddle. Other modern forms don't often feature a khaen as a “played” instrument.

A dancing farang (westerner)
-There are almost no westerners attending molam performances. I could see about a dozen per year, most of them are tourists attracted by "the noise" or people following some Esan friends of or family. -None of the people talking about molam in english on internet (and other media) actually attend molam concerts (or any kind of Thai cultural events).
-Nobody in the molam scene ever mentioned the existence of "foreign experts" or the “products” they sell. They of course have no kind of accurate clue on the subject... Peter doolan (monrak pleng thai / Khun Narin electric phin band) is the only tourist scammer I actually met and the only one I saw attending a concert...

-I have never met any white neo-colonialists living in Thailand who had any kind of interests for Thai culture*. It probably exist, I just never met any in 5 years. The example of the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre is particularly interesting as it's pretty much the only easy access tourists can have on classical Thai performing arts. Even if Bangkok is the most visited city in the world (20 millions visitors each year and many “expats”) the khon masked performance at Sala Chalermkrung is only performed twice a week!** It looks like around 0,1% of the foreigners visiting Bangkok access such beautiful cultural performance (in it's normal form, note the "sample").
*It of course include those people from NGO's, the Unesco, journalists and foreign embassy representatives.
** Since khon performance entered the Unesco lists as cultural heritage, some 25mn tourist samples are now showcased all day long which is at least a good thing for the income of the hard working performers!
The golden days of colonialism...
-The most accurate publication in English talking about molam produced recently is outdated of at least 35 years (and doesn't really focus on molam as main subjet anyway).
-The most accurate document you can easily access on the contemporary music scene in Esan is ironically this picture... Though you could not get much information from it.

If you can read all over the web that a megalomaniac little scammer who call himself “maft sai” re discovered lost Molam and “$hare” it to the population of Bangkok and the world, facts are a little bit different...
A few thousand molam fans during a regular concert in Bangkok
(view from a sky train station)

Molam have known a constant evolution and an incredible development during the last 150 years, growing from little community performances to huge popular shows attended by thousands. It's important to note that one of the main reason of this constant growing is it's clear opposition to western cultural pollution. Most of the places that welcomed the American “cultural”invasion pretty much lost their musical identity while the molam scene was getting really impressive. Such opposition often took some surprising forms showing the ability of Esan people to react and protect their culture with a certain sense of humor .
molam dancers in traditional clothes
Molam is now the most impressive popular music scene in the world:
-People of all ages, genders, socio economic backgrounds attend together molam performances.
-Molam performances are some of the longest existing concerts in the world (about 9h30 for a regular lam ruang to klon in Esan).
6am, some of the survivors of a long night of molam
-When it's not simply free (generously sponsored during religious festivities and cultural events) the price for a molam show is about 3$ in Esan.
-Molam troupes are the biggest touring bands in the history of music! Known as “molam wong yai” (molam large troupes) they can feature as many as 300 members (the biggest “regular” molam troupe ever featured 350 staff members).
 khana molam Rabiab Wattasin (lam ruang to klon tham nong Khon Kaen)
celebrating their 50th anniversary

-Molam troupes are the oldest bands in activity: The first lam ruang to klon troupes were founded in the early 50's by molam families preforming lam phune (an older form of lam story telling) since already quite a few generations. I known some mo lam families who have been performing lam for well over a century.
60's photos of early lam ruang to klon troupes on stage
-Molam troupes are the bands that have performed the largest amount of shows in the history of music. If it's impossible to get any accurate data, I estimate that the top molam troupes have performed over 700h and up to 240 concerts per year during the last 10 years. It's not crazy to estimate that some of the most popular troupes performed over 10000 or 15000 hours during their 50/65 years of existence!
contemporary lam ruang to klon costumes
Comparing the molam scene to this document about the Rolling Stones selling tickets 150 to 300$ for 2h15mn concerts gives an interesting contrast between molam and “one of the world's most popular attraction”. All the top 10 molam troupes have performed way more than 2000 concerts during the 21st century! It seems like the word “popular” have different meanings in different places and that the “non white” cultures are still very far from being considered in Occident...
they call it popular music...
Of course, nothing you just read is anywhere close to the crap you could read from people like “EM records” (from Japan) selling re-editions of Esan music or the legendary “maft sai” who scam people with products named “zudrangma records”, the “paradise Bangkok molam international band”, “studio lam”, “toomturn molam group” (a busy scammer for sure). I'll talk about those folks and their little friends in the next parts... STAY TUNED!

-All the photos signed "Saobao Esan" are all taken by myself. Those only show regular events in their most usual forms. Nothing unique or exceptional, nothing tricky. What you see here happen very often.
-All the tapes and other formats cover pictures signed "Saobao Esan" are from my personal collection.
-Everything you read here is part of my personal researches and not some copy/pasted unverified information. If you want to quote anything from my work, you should contact me first. 
-The documents I quote are not information and can't be seen as "work", those are fraudulent propaganda I compare to facts. Such propaganda not only discredit Esan culture but it also fools YOU. The people paying those frauds are either victims or "partners in crime", Their reaction (or absence of reaction) following my publications will show their positions.
All the people mentioned in this serie of documents are welcome to express their point of view here (I can add more document showing they are clueless liars upon request).

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