Thailand’s veteran traditional musicians, time has never been on their side.
During what should have been their career peaks, music as a calling was looked
down upon by polite Thai society. Now that musicians are better respected,
tastes have changed in favor of more modern, globalized sounds. However, many
of the master musicians carry on, finding small but devoted followings among
hipper listeners. Traditional and independent Thai musicians perform and
generally go about their business in David Reeve & Waraluck Hiransrettawat
Every’s Y/Our Music (trailer here), which screens as
part of Sound + Vision 2015.
inclined towards rigid categorization, Reeve & Every follow a number of the
traditional Isan musicians, as well as some decidedly idiosyncratic contemporary
artists from Bangkok. Jazz fans will be particularly interested in optician
Wiboon Tangyernyong, a self-taught saxopholist, who crafts his own bamboo
saxophones. Although maybe not as resonant as a tenor, they have a nice clean
sound and they look totally cool.
the real ringers in the film is Happyband, a neo-punk band that started out as
a Spinal Tappish performance art gag, but became a real deal when its members discovered
what a rush live performance can be. More representative are the rural Isan
masters, such as Sombat Simlhar, a blind khaen player, who gets a bluesey
melodica-like sound from the enormously cinematic instrument.
some cases, the old masters have incorporated bits and pieces of contemporary
music, such as Thongsai Thabthanon, the first to play the stringed pin with
electric amplification and a guitar pick. He sounds great jamming with his
band, getting a sound not so very far removed from surf guitars.
in Thailand, the Isan and mor lam styles are not so very familiar to the
mainstream masses. Indeed, that is the film’s whole raison d’être, so a little
more cultural and historical context would have been helpful. However, the simplicity
of Reeve & Everly’s approach has its merits, largely allowing the music to
speak for itself. Unfortunately, that gimmicky title will not do the film any favors
with search engines or databases.
You will be hard pressed to find a country where
musicians live lives of idle luxury, but it seems they have an especially
challenging time of it in Thailand. The film finds plenty of inspiration in
their resiliency and a solid groove in their music. Recommended without
reservations for world music connoisseurs, Y/Our
Music screens Tuesday night (8/4) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s
Sound + Vision.
Labels: Documentary, Sound + Vision '15, Thai Film