Quick Summary of Thai Music
Traditional music is divided into the court-centered ‘classical' tradition and various folk traditions. Central Thai classical music is performed by mahori and piphat ensembles and also accompanies the dance-drama forms of khon (masked) and lakhon (non-masked). Since the 1970s classical music has increasingly been adopted by the Bangkok middle class as a marker of status and identity (see Moro 2004: 206,207).
The most significant folk genres are the Central Thai folk traditions of phleng choi , phleng isaeo and lamtat , the Southern genres manora and talung , the Northern phleng sor and the Northeastern morlam tradition. Central Thai genres generally use the seven tone equidistant scale whereas Northeastern genres use a pentatonic minor scale. Li-ke is a theatrical form which has blended Central folk traditions with classical elements while lae is a sung style of Buddhist preaching that has been incorporated into lukthung .
Thai popular music can be traced back to phleng Thai sakon (universal or western songs) of the 1930s and 1940s. Under the leadership of Phibunsongkram and Wichit Watakan Thai melodies and lyrics were combined with western harmony and instrumentation. Folk melodies were adapted to create ramwong - a hybrid genre that rivaled the popularity of western dance music such as the tango or rumba. After WWII phleng Thai sakon gradually developed subgenres such as p hleng talad (market songs) or phleng chiwit (life songs) which discussed rural concerns and were sung with rural accents.
During the 1960s a formal division was made between these realistic songs sung in rural accents and incorporating myriad folk styles - lukthung (literally ‘children of the field') and romantic love songs sung in a western style - lukkrung (literally ‘children of the city'). Phleng phuea chiwit (songs for life), which combined American folk with Thai lyrics, melodies, singing techniques and instrumentation, provided a voice for the leftist student protest movement of the 1970s and has since developed into a commercial country rock genre. Opposed to songs for life were phleng phlukchai (patriotic marches) which developed from western brass band music during the nineteenth century. Through a process of cross-pollination with lukthung , Isan folk has developed into the hybrid genres of morlam sing , Isan lukthung and kantruem (sung by khmer speaking Thais).
Lukkrung soon developed into string (western pop with Thai lyrics) which then followed similar paths of development to western popular music. Disco and funk were important influences in the 1970s while more recently Britpop/alternative, J-Pop and K-Pop, ska and hip hop have been incorporated in local variants. Western jazz has been appreciated by the Thai upper and middle classes since the 1930s and is particularly associated with King Bhumibol.