Thai Music – Peua Cheewit
(Songs for Life)
In our last article about Thai music, we looked at Luke Toong. This time out we will look at Peua Cheewit.
Peua Cheewit first emerged as a form of protest music in the early 1970s. It was at the forefront of the Thai movement for democracy at that time. The music took elements from Mor Lam and Luke Toong but also incorporated strong influences from western folk and rock music. As the music developed, it also took influences from other music forms such as reggae.
In 1976, the ruling regime cracked down hard on the democracy movement and drove Peua Cheewit underground. It re-emerged into the mainstream in 1979 when the government granted amnesty to all those involved in the democracy movement. From this point on, Peua Cheewit developed into one of the most popular music forms in Thailand. The music's subject matter diverged from protest to a wider range of political and social issues.
The genre's popularity has waned since the mid-nineties as mainstream pop and rock took a stronger hold on the Thai market but still artists such as Carabao maintain the Peua Cheewit tradition.
So again, we will try to make this music a little more accessible to foreigners by looking at a few of the major Thai stars of Peua Cheewit and some of their work. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will like the music but we hope to at least give some insight about it. Again, we will include a few links to examples of these artists work on YouTube.
Caravan were the original Peua Cheewit band. The band was formed in the early seventies by two students at Ramkamhaeng University. Students were at the forefront of the Thai movement for democracy and when Surachai Jantimathorn (Nga Caravan) and Wirasak Sunthornsi formed the band Caravan it quickly became a figurehead for the movement.
Initially, they were an acoustic band with a strong Thai folk influence and some traditional Thai instruments. They slowly added a more percussive western folk influence with elements of western rock. Later still they started playing with electric instruments.
In 1976, the ruling regime cracked down hard and many student activists were killed in Bangkok. Caravan and other student activists took refuge in the Thai countryside and went underground. In 1979 they were granted amnesty and re-emerged into the music mainstream with huge credibility among the Thai middle and working classes.
The band split up at the end of the eighties but they did perform a series of farewell concerts so we do have some decent video footage of them playing.
Carabao are the biggest name in Peua Cheewit. It is probably fair to say they are the biggest Thai band of all time. They have been around for more than 25 years.
The band is intrinsically associated with lead singer and guitarist Ed Carabao. He formed the band with friend Khiow and is the only constant member of the band throughout its history. During that time, many other band members have come and gone, including original founder Khiow, but Ed is the one constant.
The band emerged in the early eighties with a rocky form of Peua Cheewit attacking a wide range of political and social issues in Thailand. Ed Carabou's acerbic lyrics quickly won many fans from the lower classes while stinging the countries higher echelons. The government banned many of the band's early songs for their open criticism of Thai politics and business.
As well as attacking Thai politics, Carabao is also a great defender of the rights of the Thai working classes. He advocated nationalistic policies to defend Thai people's rights within the country and earn them greater rewards for their work.
In 1984, they released their most popular album 'Made in Thailand'. The title song is a classic example of their attacks on the workings of Thai business. The song claims that Thai business is selling quality Thai produce to the world at cheap prices. That the produce is often re-branded and then sold for huge profits in foreign countries, while the workers who made it get little reward. It finishes with the line "it's not the world that cheated us, we cheated ourselves".
The band split for a while in the mid-nineties before reforming. Apart from Ed and Khiow, the other most influential member of the group was Lek Chanapai. Music fans often compare his undulating guitar and vocals to Santana. Although both Khiow and Lek have left and rejoined the band and left again, they both still often work with the band and still make guest appearances at their shows.
Carabao have now produced well in excess of 20 albums and still regularly pull in big crowds for their live performances. They played to a full house at Phuket Brewery only last week.
Ed Carabao is a very energetic man and has also developed several business interests including Red Bull. The caffeine energy drink was created in Thailand (Thai name Krataeng Daeng) and has been successfully marketed around the world.
Their list of classic songs is so long that it is hard to select just a few:
YouTube - Made
YouTube - Mae Sai (Mae Sai is a northern town on the Myanmar border)
YouTube - Kon La Fun (People's Dreams)
YouTube - Loong Kee Mao (Drunken Old Man)
YouTube - Sup Nam Dtaa Andaman (Wipe Your tears Andaman) -- This was a Tsunami disaster fundraiser. It includes the classic line "What is a tsunami, I only know sashimi".
Pongsit Kamphee (Born 1967)
Pongsit is one of the Peua Cheewit stars who has kept the genre going into the current day. His early days in the music biz saw him join Caravan as a guitarist for the last few years of their work. After Caravan split, Pongsit started performing as a solo artist. His resonant voice and melodic tones quickly made him one of the rising stars of peua cheewit.
Most of his songs were slow paced ballads of love and loneliness that struck a chord with many of the new generation of young Thais.
Maleehuana are another band that have carried the Peua Cheewit tradition into the current age. They formed way back in 1981 when they were students. They played slow melodic songs about love and social problems. The music maintained the folky influence of early Peua Cheewit but also incorporated a strong reggae influence.
The band name is a little Thai play on words. It is derived from the English word Marijuana but they change the start of the word to 'malee', a Thai word for flower, giving it the inference of 'flower music'.
YouTube - Pai Glai (Go Far)
Parn Thanaporn (born 1976)
Parn has been around for many years now. Her lyrics are often about the unfairness of Thai society to women, particularly, the tendency of successful Thai men to maintain mistresses as well as their main wife. Her videos often depict the pain and conflict that results from the Thai 'mia noi' tradition.
She has done a few collaborations with Carabao and they often do live shows together.
These are just a few of the big names of Peua Cheewit. There are more but these should give you a good feel for the genre. Next time out we will take a look at the current pop scene in Thailand.
Thai Music -- Genres & History - An introduction to the main genres of Thai music and their history.
Thai Music -- Mor Lam - An introduction to the stars of Mor Lam (Thai folk music).
Thai Music -- Luke Toong - An introduction to the stars of Luke Toong (Thai folk and country music).
Thai Music -- Peua Cheewit - AAn introduction to the stars of Peua Cheewit (Thai songs for life).
Thai Music -- Pop - An introduction to the stars of Thai pop music.
Thai Music -- Rock - An introduction to the stars of Thai rock music.
Live Music in Phuket - We finish our series about Thai music with a look at the live music scene in Phuket.