During the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming businesses and online platforms enjoyed explosive growth, especially for the entertainment industry. In Thailand, however, one particular traditional music business — molam — plunged into dire circumstances. Yet to be afforded legitimacy, molam artists receive little to no support from the government. Today, they hang onto a dimming hope that they will return to the stage as their art form gradually dies.
Once upon a time, on a small alley next to Wat Machimawat on Mak Khaeng Road, a dozen houses could be seen. The houses were the homes of molam artists and dancers. Once scattered throughout Isaan, they had all moved from their hometowns to this alley in the city of Udon Thani. There they all had dreamt that they would become stars. But today, only a few of the original houses remain, sheltering aging molam artists.
“In the past, LGBT people would be afraid of coming out. But nowadays, society is more accepting and everyone is able to express themselves. I personally admire them for being confident and working the best they can. These days, society gives an equal chance to everyone,” said Nok Noi Uraiporn, leader of the Siang Isaan molam troupe.
For the past six weeks we’ve run a special series, “The Soul of Molam.” We brought you features, photo essays, interviews, and videos about the rich culture of molam and the people who live and breathe it. In this final part, we give space to our readers and some of the people we interviewed to take a look at what the series did well and what it missed out on.
What does the future hold for molam music? Five molam artists share their views on the state of the genre. We talked to Nattapon Siangsukon from Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, Boonchuang Denduang, Dao Bandon, Ratri Sriwilai and Phichai Phorahomphui.
When Chris Beale bought a curious old vinyl record at his local record store in San Francisco ten years ago, he had no idea it would lead him to photograph Isaan’s most famed molam artists. The American photographer, who recently showed his work in Khon Kaen, talks about his current project to document molam culture in Isaan and Laos.
Ethnomusicologist John Garzoli talks about the ways that molam and the khaen have evolved in the past few decades and his hopes for the future of the genre.
The molam we know today stems from a century-old Lao tradition that is being transformed by its mingling with central Thai forms and international styles. What do we know about that original tradition? Are there khaen-playing practitioners still performing today in Isaan? John Garzoli, an ethnomusicologist looking precisely at these issues, shares his views.
A look into the evolution of popular Isaan music from molam, luk thung to pop. Panis Phosriwungchai traces how Isaan music transformed itself to become Thailand's most popular music.
In molam music, the vocals of the molam performer and the sound of the khaen, a free reed mouth organ, are intimately linked. Panupong Thongsri looks at the evolution of molam lyrics and khaen music in Isaan.
Molam artist Patipan Luecha performs the protest song "March to oust dictatorship" at a student protest at Khon Kaen University in February.[VIDEO]