Thai Music - Luke Toong
(Children of the Field)
In our previous article about Thai music, we looked at Mor Lam. This time out we will look at the other major form of Thai country/folk music -- Luke Toong.
Luke Toong is a newer and more mainstream music genre in Thailand than Mor Lam. While Mor Lam has slowly gained wider acceptance around the country, its main fan base remains its home in Isaan (northeastern Thailand). Strangely, there is still a degree of snobbery against Mor Lam. Isaan is the great agricultural heartland of Thailand and the rest of the country tend to view its people as simple country folk. There is therefore a tendency to view Mor Lam as country bumpkin music.
Luke Toong is melodic music, often slow with a melancholy feel. The lyrics, like Mor Lam, are invariably about the hardships of rural life in Thailand. Common subjects are poverty, living away from home, love and unfaithful husbands. Luke Toong music originally started in central Thailand but it has since spread all around the country to be the favourite music form of the great rural masses of Thailand.
Luke Toong is a less demanding singing style than Mor Lam. Many of the Mor Lam stars also sing a bit of Luke Toong but there are very few Luke Toong singers who also turn their hand to Mor Lam.
There is perhaps a small degree of rivalry between the two singing styles. The Mor Lam fans consider Luke Toong to be commercialised mainstream fare while the Luke Toong fans consider Mor Lam to be country bumpkin music. In truth, there is a lot of crossover between the two styles and many Thais like both forms of music.
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 Luke Toong and some of their work. You may not like the music but at least you will have a better understanding of it. Again, we will include a few links to examples of these artists work on YouTube.
Pumpuang Duangchan (1961 - 1992)
It is more than 15 years since her tragically early death but fans still call her 'rachinee luke toong' (the queen of luke toong). Like many of the early stars of Luke Toong, she came from the central Thai province of Suphanburi, just north of Bangkok. She was a poor farmer's girl with little education. She could not read or write. Her life was to be full of hardship and tragedy. Still she was an undoubted beauty with a voice that could send tingles down the spine. Perhaps it was her hard upbringing that allowed her to pour so much emotion and power into her songs.
She updated luke toong with some faster dance rhythms and modern instruments to a form that became known as electronic luke toong. Yet she could still sing traditional, slower ballad style luke toong with a voice that delivered gut wrenching emotion. She was the Thai dream, a simple peasant girl who bridged all boundaries to become the biggest star in Thailand.
Unfortunately, her private life was not so kind to her. There were two failed and very painful marriages. She tragically fell ill and died at the age of 31. The king granted her the remarkable honour of a royal funeral that was attended by 150,000 people. Her fans still go to visit Tapkradan Temple in Suphanburi to pay homage.
Surapon Sombatjaroern (1930-1968)
If Pompuang was the queen of Luke Toong then Surapon was the King, also often described as the father of Luke Toong. He was the first truly big star of Luke Toong and was very popular in the 50s and 60s. He was a talented singer and songwriter and was also renowned for his dashing good looks. His work sounds a little basic compared to modern production standards but his rich voice still comes through.
He was shot and killed in 1968 in what was said to be a love dispute with a rival. Unfortunately there is not much video footage from back then so we are limited to karaoke vidoes of his work.
YouTube - Hua Jai Dtor (Heart Flutters)
The two performers above are still two of the greatest ever Luke Toong stars but the genre has moved on and grown in popularity. There are now a plethora of Thai singers performing Luke Toong so lets take a look at a few of the current stars. There are so many popular Luke Toong singers that we can only hope to mention a few of the bigger names to give a taste of the current scene.
Many people believe that Sunaree has the finest voice of the current Luke Toong stars. Like most of the modern stars, she is also very attractive.
She is another female singing star who had rotten fortune with her choice of men. She married only to discover that her new husband already had a pregnant wife.
Tai's rich soulful voice and haunting good looks have made her one of the top selling Luke Toong stars of the modern generation.
She has a reputation as a better recording artist than live performer where her detached style does not really connect with the audience. She has released many albums over the last decade.
YouTube - Gin Kao Reu Yung (Have You Eaten)
Takkatan is a personal favourite. She is a master of the Luke Toong ballad. She has wonderful clear vocal delivery and yet and she can still put so much emotion and sentiment into the song that you do not need to understand Thai to be touched by the lyrics. She is also, like all the other current female stars, a very pretty young lady.
These two ballads are great examples of her work:
Monsit is one of the many Thai singing stars who started his career in singing contests. Despite his fine lilting tones, it took a long time for him to find success as record producers felt he was not good looking enough to be a star. Eventually, his talent and upbeat personality won through and he has been one of the top Luke Tong stars for many years now.
YouTube - Glua (Scared)
Mike is probably the most popular of the current male Luke Toong singers. His good looks, easy going charm and rich tones make him very popular with the female fans. Like so many Luke Toong stars, he comes from a humble background and worked on building sites before he finally found fame.
Perhaps it is their humble origins that make so many of the Luke Toong stars such down to earth characters that they can still maintain a genuine rapport with their fans.
Luke Toong is now truly a nation wide Thai music genre and Baowee is one of the stars from southern Thailand. He has a strong voice and excellent stage presence with a good rapport with the fans.
He had a big hit in 2007 with this number:
YouTube - Korn Mai Gup Reua (Wooden Oar and Boat)
These are just a few of the current big names of Luke Toong. There are many, many more but these should give you a good feel for the genre. Next time out we will take a look at Peua Cheewit (songs for life).
Looknok is not the biggest star of Look Toong but she did sing what one of the biggest ever hits -- 'Khun Lumyai' was massively popular across Thailand.
The song is featured in the 2002 movie 'Mon Pleng Luke Toong FM'. The movie is a charming story about a singing contest with 1-million-baht prize money that attracts all manner of aspiring singers. The movie stars many well known Thai singing stars and if you can get hold of a copy, it is a great introduction to Mor Lam and Luke Toong music.
Looknok plays a girl who works in a market stall. The other market women mock her innocence and sweetness. They call her Khun Lumyai. The Lumyai is a small sweet round fruit (longon) and the insinuation is that Looknok is sweet and innocent. It is a bit like calling someone Miss Cherry.
In the song, Looknok expresses her outrage about her nickname. Looknok performs the song with a fabulous mix of angst, irony and fun. The bouncy beat and energetic singing are still guaranteed to get a positive reaction across Thailand. Just hearing the opening few bars of this song is enough to get most Thai women up on their feet and dancing.
The song even features a Thai rap -- "what if I dyed my hair, had a crocodile skin bag, wore jeans, like an American, what would they call me then?".
YouTube - Khun Lumyai (Miss Longon)
If you want to know more about Luke Toong and Mor Lam you should read this article written by Peter.
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.