This week's online class takes us to Thailand, an ancient kingdom that in all its years of being a unified nation never been colonized by Western powers -- the only country in Southeast Asia with that distinction. The Thai people are overwhelmingly Theravada Buddhist (95%), almost 100% Thai speaking, though many also speak their own ethnic group's local language, and, by all public accounts, quite fond of the king, whose official title is, "Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths."
For decades after the World War II the Thai military essentially ran the nation, with leadership changing hands through a succession of military coups. Democracy won out in the 1980s, enabling Thailand to rapidly industrialize, and rapidly build beach resorts for European tourists along its gorgeous coast. Thailand faced rough times in 1997 when the economy stopped booming, causing the value of the Thai currency to collapse and prompting an Asia-wide financial crisis. Thailand has since gotten back on its feet financially and has continued to grow, though political unrest is a constant threat.
This week in class we sing:
We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Thai: "Sawatdi."
A LITTLE MORE
While Thai classical music is fantastic in its own right – enjoy piphat!! – let's learn a little about “modern” Thai music. By the 1930s music like jazz and Western classical had become influential in Thailand. Thai musicians have long Western and Thai music together to form new styles that blurred lines between the cultures, such as:
-- Wong shadow:
Imitating artists like the British early rock band Cliff Richard & the Shadows, Thai bands from the '60s like The Impossibles pioneered a style of music called "wong shadow" that by the '90s had evolved into a less funky pop music called String.
-- Phleng pheua chiwit ("Songs for Life"):
Phleng pheua chiwit is a Thai form of protest music that started in the '70s to address the issues of the working class and blended Thai traditional instruments with Western folk, rock and reggae. The first phleng pheua chiwit band, Caravan, was an integral part of the mid '70s movement for democracy. In 1976 Caravan and students from Thammasat University fled to the rural hills when police and right wing activists attacked them. In the '80s the government granted amnesty to the students, helping phleng pheua chiwit to become mainstream. By the 1990s, phleng pheua chiwit was no longer as popular, though there are few phleng pheua chiwit artists remain like Pongsit Kamphee.