Author Topic: Mor lam sings for its future  (Read 1678 times)

Offline Johnnie F.

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Mor lam sings for its future
« on: May 20, 2013, 08:49:52 AM »

Mor lam sings for its future

Isaan youngsters entertain diners in Singapore in a bid to rescue a waning culture
The mellifluous sound of the khaen, the traditional reed flute played mainly in the Northeast, never fails to catch the attention of passers-by, and if a teenager happens to start singing along in a well-developed tremolo, absolutely everything will stop.

That's what's happening at the Jim Thompson restaurant in Singapore, where students from Khok Khon Wittayakom School - winners of the Thai silk firm's Sud Sanan Dan Isaan Mor Lam Contest - put on shows for the diners.

The song and the tune keep in sync with the dancers' slow and graceful steps, only for the spectators to be surprised when the leisurely rhythm speeds up and the singer and dancers race to keep pace. Anyone who doesn't understand the Thai-Lao dialect will be mystified rather than amused by the witty lyrics, but the lively performance handily conveys the charm of Isaan folksong.

The traditional musical genre of Laos and Northeast Thailand, mor lam literally means "expert song" or "expert singer". The melody is characteristically flexible, wrapping itself around the tones of the lyrics - poetry in the original form.

"The annual Jim Thompson Farm competition gives these mor lam noi [junior artists] the opportunity to perform onstage and show their talent," says Ajarn Peerada Poolperm, who guides the music and performance club at Khok Khon Wittayakom School.

"Normally our students put on pong lang shows - they'd never tried mor lam - but when the competition was announced, we started to practise. I believe that kids perform best if they love and enjoy what they're doing, so I recruited students for this band based on their passion as well as their talent. And that's why we won the contest!"

Peerada laments a widening cultural gap between generations in the Northeast.

"The old people who cling to the Isaan culture and traditions remain in the villages taking care of the babies of their children who've gone off to work in the big cities. When the babies grow up, they leave their grandparents in turn. So there's no chance for the old-timers to pass on their knowledge and expertise. All these valuable traditions will die with them.

"This contest and having this stage overseas are great because it helps the young people realise how important they are in preserving Isaan culture. It's a massive boost to these kids' awareness about their home culture."

And for the Jim Thompson Farm, where the silkworms toil to make shimmering fabric for the shops, Singapore is just the starting point in a scheme to encourage youths to learn about and preserve their native culture.

"Our main mission at the Jim Thompson Farm is to take part in conserving Isaan culture and elevate the villagers' quality of life," says communications director Chutima Dumsuwan. "We consider Isaan our birthplace and are forever grateful for the sericulture and the weavers - without them there would be no Jim Thompson today."

Chutima says research continues toward the establishment of a mor lam museum at the farm in Pak Chong.

"And, while researching mor lam and the art of silk weaving, we realised that they face the same threat. Both are breathing their last breaths. The old-timers might have to take their valuable knowledge and expertise to the grave with them because they have nobody to pass them on to!

"So that was our inspiration to organise a mor lam contest that required the bands to perform traditional Isaan music with poetic lyrics."

Amid the sweet sound of the music and much vibrant spirit, it's these youngsters - the "little mor lam" - who are making what might be a last grasp at cultural survival. The seesaw buzz and the soaring notes of the khaen are building a bridge of hope.

The Nation

Typical, can't tell Pak Thong Chai from Pak ChongI I struggled with that for years, too.