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: www.zudrangmarecords.com. 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 www.kathmandu-bkk.com.