Monthly Archives: July 2012

Vocal Music of Contemporary China Volume 2: The National Minorities – The Uighurs and The Kazakhs, The Inner Mongolians and the Dongs (Ethnic Folkways Records FE 4092)

Guangyin-axinshang (Dong)

Selection from liner notes:
Over half of China’s fifty-five national minorities are concentrated in the southwest, Most share some cultural features with the ethnic minorities in northern mainland Southeast Asia. One such group is the Dongs who live in the mountainous border of southeastern Hunan and western Quizhou Provinces and northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The Dongs are famous for their mortised bridges, drum towers, and singing. There is a saying among the Dongs: “Speech is incomplete; only singing can express everything.” (Hung 1959: 37) They have songs for almost every occasion of daily life, including songs for welcoming and sending off guests, and for meeting friends on the road. (You 1979: 24) According to a survey done in the Southeastern Hunan area, there are 47 types of songs for different purposes and within the love song category there are seven subtypes. (Hung 1959: 40-47) The Dongs are fond of part singing, a feature less frequently found among the Han-Chinese and the other minorities discussed hitherto. Dong choirs are organized by sex, age, and vocal range (Fang 1960: 26). The top part of a two-part choir, the most usual kind, is carried by one or two lead singers and the bottom by the rest of the group. The relationship of the two can be in drone, question-answer, organum, or imitation (Nian 1960: 35) and the most common harmonic intervals encountered are thirds (Fang 1960: 27). The five-tone scale in minor mode, like the “Mongolian Mode” mentioned earlier, is the most popular though by no means the only mode used. Among the instruments of the Dongs, the following are commonly found: len (mouth organ), gi (bamboo recorder), piba (small 4-stringed lute), go kie (small 3-stringed lute), and ba mei (tree leaves) (Hung 1959: 37-40)

8. Guangyin-axinshang (Dong)
Text by Li Runqin and Jiang Fan, music arranged by Ji Zhou; Wang Yinju and Li Runqin, lead singers accompanied by the Chorus of the Guizhou Song and Dance Troupe, Dong Dangan, instrument soloist. Sung in Mandarin. (1-1409A/B)
The Dongs like to organize their songs in suites with introduction, songs, coda. This one belongs to this type of song-suite. It is a mountain song, i.e. love song with improvisatory text sung in the mountain. Despite the “concert” arrangement, most musical features discussed above are present. A gi and a man’s whistle are used as accompaniment. Contrary to the Han examples in Volume 1 and non-Han examples heard so far in the Volume, the Dongs sing in a rather relaxed and low-pitched voice.

Citations for selection:
Fang Jishen. 1960. “The Basic Characteristics of Folk Choral Singing among the Dongs, the Zhuangs, the Puyis, and the Yaos) Renmin Yinyue, March: 26-28.
Hung Tai. 1959. “The Folk Music of the Dongs in Tongdao, Hunan” Yinyue Yenjiu, No. 4: 37-54.
Nian Yi. 1960. “The Folksongs of the Dongs” Renmin Yinyue, October: 35-37.
You Yuwen. 1979. “With the Dong People of Guangxi” China Reconstructs, Vol. XXVIII, No. 7, July: 22-25.

Yuna S/T

Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna has recently put out a new self-titled album on the label of FADER Magazine. I saw Yuna once in a small club in Malaysia and it was clear she was very talented and charming so it is great to see that she’s taking things to that next level in LA.

Support the artist at


Pharrell Williams produced single “Live Your Life”


Bonus material from Yuna’s 2008 EP

YUNA 03 dan sebenarnya

YUNA 04 blue sands

Olden still golden: Record label takes back modern molam music to the prime of its youth

Olden still golden

Record label takes back modern molam music to the prime of its youth

Last February, local DJ and Zudrangma record label owner, Maft Sai produced one of the year’s best concerts _ a bevy of veteran molam singers, backed by one of the greatest molam bands ever, Wong Dontri Molam Theppabutr.

The gig was set up mainly because Maft wanted to see (and hear) if the performers were as good as the vinyl they released during the golden era of modern molam in the late 60s and early 70s. They were and then some.

The show was also a tribute to the pioneering work of “molam originator” and producer Theppabutr Satirodchompu. Recorded in his Siam Studio in Maha Sarakham and released on his Theppanom label, Theppabutr pumped out hit after hit for singers like his then partner Banyen Rakkaen, who went on to be one of the biggest molam stars, luk thung Isan singer Saksiam Petchchompu, Chanpen Sirithep and Yupin Kanfung among others.

To put Theppabutr’s music into a global context, consider him as a Thai equivalent to Sam Phillips at US labels like Sun Records or Berry Gordy at Tamla Motown, except that he produced (and created) more bands than either of them.

The idea, Maft Sai explained to me, was to release the CD at the same time as the concert, but putting together a compilation that involves getting licenses, finding out the catalogue numbers of each hit and who played on each track, is a very time-consuming affair, one that Maft Sai has stuck to with the dogged determination of a private detective. The result is Zudrangma’s first real international release: Theppabutr Productions _The Man Behind The Molam Sound 1972-75.

The 15-tracks on the album feature the Wong Dontri Theppabutr Molam band at its height (with some of the same players who performed in February) and singers the band backed during the period.

Maft has not gone for the more well-known uptempo numbers, as he prefers the slower, haunting songs like the atmospheric opener, Lam Yao Salab Toey by Banyen Rakkaen.

It is perhaps a surprise that he didn’t do a compilation on, say a star like Banyen, but his focus on the work of a producer like Theppabutr’s allows him to showcase the work of other great singers from the Thappbutr roster like Saksiam and Chanpen.

And with six tracks from Banyen on the compilation, you get an idea of the range of her work.

Every track is a standout on the album and I’d be hard pressed to name a favourite; each time I listen to the album something new emerges and I change my preferences. At the moment, I can’t get Yupin Kanfung’s groove-laden Sao Isan Lam Khaen out of my head. There are a lot of lam ploen (plearn in the liner notes) songs, which come from the more theatrical lam styles, often involving backing by a full band or orchestra. Neatly packaged with well-researched liner notes and track details (right down to original catalogue numbers), this is a must-have for fans of molam from the golden era.

More information from: On the website you can also hear a short 30-minute radio show I produced, which features some of the music I’ve been reviewing over the years. Check it out!

I went to the opening of an exhibition of photographs taken in 1966-67 by master photographer Pornsak Sakdaenprai at Kathmandu Gallery last Saturday evening. Now a sprightly 74-year-old, who has just completed a degree in liberal arts, Mr Pornsak explained to me how his studio, Pornsilp Photo Studio in the Pimai district of Nakorn Ratchasima, became popular with local people who wanted portraits that showed them as luk thung stars.

His photos, shot in black and white on a large-format camera, often feature a rolled background showing a highway and tall buildings that underpins the notion of modernity and sophistication in the photos.

Unlit cigarettes, cowboy hats, a suit and tie, a radio, a fan-backed chair appear as props, and the men have Brylcream-perfect Elvis quiffs in the style of Surapon Sombatchareon, the hottest luk thung star of the period.

They are wonderful photographs, superbly crafted by a self-taught master, and important historical documents.

They seem to evoke the desire for modernity that came with the rapid industrialisation that began in the mid-1960s in Thailand.

They also reminded me of the wonderful work of another self-taught master, Malian Seydou Keita, who also ran a studio during the same period in Bamako and produced similar portraits of West Africans who wanted images of themselves that were hip and chic.

“Pornsak Sakdaenprai” runs until August 27 at Kathmandu Photo Gallery. Visit