Is there really a Thong Linh? There may have been some sloppy research or just plain falsifying of information on the part of the original producers who recorded this vocalist among other Laotian artists under the auspices of UNESCO in the '60s. The recording in question was first released as A Musical Anthology of the Orient: Laos and is something of a favorite of world music collectors, as it is one of the few anthologies of recordings from this part of the world. Among Asian countries, the small land of Laos has always remained something of a mystery to Westerners, even to the extent that life in this country was seriously disrupted by the political events of the '60s and '70s. If the purpose was to help unravel the mystery, the Laos recording mission of producer Alain Daniélou and his colleagues can certainly be faulted. For example, the titles of the songs performed by this artist, as well as fellow vocalist Miss Sai Thong, are both simply identified as "Love Song." It is doubtful that this producer would have been happy to go out and buy a record by French singer Edith Piaf and find the actual song titles reduced to this sorry state. The performing artists featured here were all celebrated on the traditional Laotian music scene, performing regularly on this country's Radio Vientiane. Thong Linh's repertoire included many examples of a type of Laotian folk music that in the original liner notes is described as being very close in form to ancient types of Indian composition from the Himalayan regions. This, however, is one of the scholarly conclusions that has been debated heatedly in the decades since these recordings were originally pressed. These vocal performances involve improvisation and were frequently accompanied only by the beautiful khene, an elaborate mouth organ that is one of the distinctive features of Southeast Asian music. Yet the name of this singer and the name of other performers on this volume may not, it turns out, be completely correct.
Making matters worse was the decision by Rounder to keep the original liner notes when a reissue of this material was prepared for compact disc in the mid-'90s. "The dramatic political and social changes which have taken place in Laos since the original album was produced make this particular volume especially out-of-date," was the way one reviewer described the problem. Listeners who find this performer's work entrancing have the freedom to brood over whether this might have been an artist who was persecuted or even assassinated by the neighboring regime of Pol Pot, which attempted to completely obliterate all forms of traditional folk culture and tended to start with the performing artists.