The music of Thai politics

Numnual Yapparat

Music is one of the good indicators which show what is going on in our society. It mirrors hopes, dreams, and resentment feelings against injustices. Songs are playing a vital role in Thai politics from primary levels like in villages and trade unions, to the national level struggles of political parties and social movements such as the yellow and red shirts.

These days, “Pleng Luk Tung” (“Country Music”) are a spearhead to challenge the “Thainess” norms. Main stream middle class commercial pop songs focus on individual desires and ignore the real world around them. The Pleng Luk Tung deal openly about peoples’ sexual desires or the hardship that they face in daily life. It helps to release the resentment they feel towards the state of society. However, the Pleng Luk Tung are far from revolution songs because they do not offer a solution. They can also be sexist.

There were a huge number of revolutionary songs in Thailand, especially from the period when the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was popular. The songs that were composed by the CPT’s artists are disappearing because they have not been properly recorded. The ex-leftists have been trying to reserve and circulate these songs to the new generation but success is limited. Some of the songs have passed down to today because they were sung by well-known bands like the “Caravan”. However, they are being depoliticised in order to access wider audiences.  What is even more tragic is that today “Caravan” are on the wrong side because they support the yellow shirts. (See our article: Thailand: 25 years after the end of the Berlin Wall).

The conflict between the red and yellow shirts helped to shape a new era of radical songs, especially from the red shirts. Some of their melodies are very beautiful and complicated but some of them are rather poor. However, their political messages are very clear. We have seen two levels of political music this time.

In the first level are the radical songs which want to push a progressive political agenda forward as far as possible. They want a new system where we all are equal.

One of the most striking examples would be the artists from Chiang Mai who released “Guillotine” (เพลงกิโยติน). “Guillotine” became very popular among red shirts especially among anti-monarchy segments. The song has been repeatedly played via local radio channels in the North and North East. After “Guillotine” they released a few more singles which focused on the role of the Thai royal family.

เพลงกิโยติน “Guillotine”

Another band from the red shirts is “Fai Yen” (วงไฟเย็น). The band was formed by the ex-progressive student from 1976 who joined the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and present red shirt students. Nearly all of their members are now living in exile. They composed a song that saluted the role of the taxi driver “Nuam Tong”, who killed himself in order to protest against the coup in 2006. Then they focused on the royal family. Here some of their songs:

ไม่รักระวังติดคุกนะ  “If you don’t love, beware of jail.”  The song is mocking lèse-majesté.

เพลง 112ไม่เป็นธรรม this song demands to scrap the 112 lèse-majesté law.

The second level red shirt songs are from bands that support Pua Thai or the UDD red shirt leadership. They would be played on red shirt rallies. Most of their contents are asking for their rights. They protest against those who robbed them of their elected governments.

The majority of the UDD leaders also have their own songs and used to sing them before giving speeches. Music became an indispensable part of the red shirts’ struggle. They even had a song that they would play only when they lost their friends on the battle field. They collectively expressed their grief by playing the song that represented all that they had to say.

เพลงนักสู้ธุลีดิน “The warrior of the ashes and earth”, composed by จิ้น  กรรมาชน (Jin Kam-Ma-Chon)

The CPT era

This musical form of battle used to happen before, such as in the 1960s; the students movements paid attentions to the main events in the world, such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement in the U.S.A etc. After the 6th October 1976 when students were massacred in Thammasart University, students fled the cities to join the CPT in the forests and they composed song about their hopes of coming back to seek revenge on behalf of their friends and also to set up a new socialist society.

จากลานโพธิ์ถึงภูพาน “From Lan Po in Thammasart to the mountain stronghold of the CPT in Puparn”  The composer is living now in exile.

The band “Caravan” produced a landmark song คนกับควาย (“People and Buffalos”) in 1975 which was heavily influenced by “the Masters of War” by Bob Dylan. The song was composed by Somkid Singsong who is a left wing writer and was exiled in Sweden for several years before returning to Thailand.

คนกับควาย“People and Buffalos”. The song talks about exploitation.

ยิ้มกลางสายฝน “Smiling in the Rain” . The song encouraged students to carry their dream and hope to create a new country. The song is very beautiful both in words and rhythm.

เพลงสหาย “Comrade”.  Composed by Jin Kam-Ma-Chon. The song promotes the role of comrades and the party.

One thing that we can see is the difference between revolutionary songs from the CPT era and red shirt songs from today. The revolutionary songs outlined the need for change and how to achieve it, which can only derive from the existence of a revolution party.

Yellow shirts

In contrast to the red shirts, the yellow shirts have used the ultra-right song from the 1970s called หนักแผ่นดิน “Nug Pandin” (which translates roughly as “a waste of space”).This song was used to insult leftists and students.

Yellow shirts have also sung old CPT songs at their protest and like the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks by Sutep’s mob, the original meaning has been turned on its head!