Miss Sai Thong

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It's the singer, not the song, or so the saying goes. But in the case of Miss Sai Thong, it is hard to tell which is which. More than 40 years after the album track "Love Song" was attributed to Miss…
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It's the singer, not the song, or so the saying goes. But in the case of Miss Sai Thong, it is hard to tell which is which. More than 40 years after the album track "Love Song" was attributed to Miss Sai Thong by French international music producers, it was still not only possible but probable to hear the track played on a high-class public radio or college global music show. Even with a glut of international music releases, these particular performances have remained favorites. The identification of the artist by name that inevitably will follow from the announcer's lips is quite possibly meaningless, however, because these producers seemed to have fudged up in creating accurate credits for their production. In the case of this singer, it is highly possible her name is actually the real name of the song, and not her name, since both "thong" and "sai" are words in the Laotian, Vietnamese, and Thai languages. The singer who performed on these original recordings sang an unaccompanied piece that was actually a response to the previous track, also entitled "Love Song." These vague title credits are indications of how sloppy the original work was on this project, part of the UNESCO-sponsored A Musical Anthology of the Orient series originally released on albums by Baren Reiter Musicaphon. In the '90s, this series was reissued on compact disc by Rounder, and the company's decision to keep the original liner notes and do no further research or updating was met by hostility from some writers.

Perhaps there was nothing more that could be done, however. Miss Sai Thong, or whatever her name is, was part of a troupe of musicians that regularly performed the country's traditional music over the Laotian Radio Vientiane. Her particular specialty seemed to be the unaccompanied ballad, while other singers worked with simple instrumental backup such as the khene mouth organ, or combos up to a full orchestra. The reputations of these performers spread as radio itself spread through the country, helped a great deal by the United Nations' so-called "suitcase radio stations." There were complete radio broadcasting systems that fit inside a suitcase and could be easily transported and set up in extremely remote villages. But while great support existed for the traditional folk culture in one Laotian regime, the political nightmare of Southeast Asia in the late '60s and '70s could hardly have been less unkind to performers such as this singer. They and recordings they might have made seem to have dropped off the face of the Earth, along with Radio Vientiane and the entire bureaucracy that supported it. Thus, these UNESCO recordings have acquired great value, even if informational aspects of this documentation leave much to be desired.