Thai folk music and Look Thung

A well established musical genre since the 1960s, the hybrid popular music called luk thung has embodied the aspirations, frustrations, and sorrows of Thailand's working class. Find out what is it about!

Table of Contents

Who has ever wondered what is it like Thai folk music? The subject I am about to discuss has been extensively described by experts in the field who surely have investigated more in the detail the topic, nevertheless I think it is an important in order to understand the soul of Thais. Today we’ll talk about two music styles that influence Thais’ daily lives. Let’s talk about Look Thung (Literally children of the Fields) typical folk music that was born in the plans of Central Thailand, the genre capital is Suphanburi about 2 hours and a half northwest of Bangkok, it is the city from which most of the major exponents of this genre comes from. Then we’ll describe Look Thung upcountry counterpart: the Mor Lam.

If Thai taxis mostly run on LPG what gives energy and vitality to taxi drivers is the Look Thung Thai folk music, in its lyrics it is easy to hear all the pains and hardships of life that the Thai working class face every day, it is definitely not a music to escape from reality but surely it is one of the few ways for the less well-off to give some blow to the authorities and be heard. Unlike the Luuk Krung musical style associated with Bangkok’s rich elite where singers are chosen for their white skin (this feature implies wealth), Look Thung Thai folk music singers are generally dark-skinned and what really matters is the their ability to enter into the listeners’ hearts.

Although promiscuous lyrics in Thai songs are risky; Look Thung is one of the few ways to talk about prostitution publicly and in fact one it is a staple topic along with trucker stories and waitresses’ stories who came to the big city in search of fortune. In the beginning, scholars decided that both genres started in the 1930s when peasants from the central Thai plains adapted court music to accompany long working days. The instinct to sing together persists so far as today and it helps explain the great success of Karaoke in Thailand.

Thai folk music – Mor Lam

Mor Lam is North-East typical style, it is much closer to the Laotian culture. It literally stands for (Doctor of the Song). It is said the name derives from radio speakers that during the songs dispense suggestions on how to deal with the travails of rural life and on love affairs. Mor Lam is older than Look Thung, some of its top exponents were even used by the CIA to propagate anti-communist messages during the 1970s. Anti-communists messages were posted inside their songs to dissuade the peasant masses from following the principles of communist doctrine. Its frenetic rhythm is produced by the incessant percussion on the Khaen – bamboo tubes. Since the beginnings, Mor Lam and Luuk Thung’s shows have evolved a lot from what they used to be originally, namely songs for the humble Thai classes, many of today’s shows can rival a Las Vegas showcase thanks to colorful choreography, flashy clothes , miniskirts, dance bodies and fireworks.

In Bangkok we are seeing a growing interest in these genres so much that they have started to become famous places where emerging Look Thung or Mor Lam bands regularly perform to make their pieces heard. Among the most famous there is Studio Lam, a bar with a young and multi-ethnic clientele just a stone’s throw from Thong Lor, the heart of Bangkok’s nightlife.

Share this article:

Subscribe to our newsletter to get our articles and find out the best Bangkok can offer