Various Artists

The Flower of Isan/Isan Slete: Songs and Music From North-East Thailand

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Masters of the lam, the traditional singing style of the Isan region of Thailand, Saman and Sri-Ubon Hongsa have been performing for over 30 years, with concerts in their own country, Laos, Japan, Portugal, and the U.K. Like others in Isan, the Hongsas speak Laotian and integrate some of that country's culture into their music. For this 1989 GlobeStyle recording, they are joined by four other veteran musicians from around Thailand. The instrumentation includes the kaen, a bamboo mouth organ; the pin, a three-stringed guitar-like instrument; and the ponglang, a large wooden xylophone. The set is a mix of ancient instrumentals and traditional songs with updated lyrics (the subject matter takes in everything from economic hardship and modernization to courtship and boastful lam singers). While the ponglang conjures up the music of the Balinese gamelan, the sonorous kaen, rough-hewn vocals, and steady drum beats make the sound uniquely Thai (the lam tradition has been hugely influential on the modern, rock-influenced music of Thailand's youth, who have replaced the pin with the electric guitar and the kaen with electric keyboards). This nicely recorded and annotated album will make a fine addition to any international music collection.