Molam is a blanket term for the colourful and emotional music that was the culmination of over 250 years of immigration patterns towards the Thai cities of Laos and Isan. While the term means “expert song” or “expert singer”, there is an omnibus of subgenres due to the huge amount of influences, including many proto hip-hop motifs of battle raps where villagers would freestyle and try to out-philosophise each other as well as epic story telling of sagas that were passed down from master to student, which could take nights to finish!
Molam was doomed to become predominantly rural entertainment after it was banned civilly in 1865. However the music travelled outside of the origin areas by immigration and the first major festival was held in 1946.
60’s technology and opening of borders provided the inclusion of electronic instruments and recording equipment and thus bolstered the sound quality. This is the basis of the freakout dance beats that are readily available on fashionable compilations such as the Sound of Siam records and Sublime Frequency releases of today. This resurgence into popular culture in the 60’s attracted governmental control and propaganda into the midst, and the communist government still had its own tipped off Molam bands into the 70‘s.
Isan and Laos immigrants schlepped Molam popular music into karaoke halls all over Thailand and into the eighties, which is where the story of our strange topic starts; however, as an outsider, the lack of available research leaves me utterly clueless. Always mutable and transcending, Molam is like the voodoo religion, sucking up styles, gods and tales into a bottomless discography of human experience. In the mid eighties, drugs, sex tourism, bikers and ladyboys all seemed to get their own racy subgenre of the already risqué art form - the Molam Sing. “Sing” not being anything to do with the English interpretation, but allegedly named after motor cycle groups in Isan.
This makes perfect sense: the new genre was speed-based (pardon the pun), with electronic drums and keyboards, long repetitive trance beats, and lyrics mainly to do with lust, expulsion, grief and desire…..
In the clips of this collection you will see totems of death, oversexed ladyboys, and most touchingly, many indomitable performances in the face of rain and tiny crowds. The musicians hide behind the voraciousness of the performers, playing breakneck speed guitar in the dark without emotion, slaying harsh contrapuntal melodies to the lyrics, while the performers flail asses everywhere. By now, it’s the soundtrack of Pattaya sex tourism, of drug trade, of lost morals and grandeur of a culture, and Thai internet forums are full of criticism for the lost art form of the original Molam. However, in these clips you will see the new variations of form come alive in many outlets, and see a new form birth from it’s master, naughty and disobedient and creative, just like Prometheus. It’s dangerous, sexy and balmy…
Welcome to Molam Sing!