Country comeback

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2003, 12:00am

Blame dad. That is what pop star Mai Charoenpura says when quizzed on why she has dropped pop for country music. 'My father always used to sing luk thung (country) songs and when I was young, I used to sing the songs,' said the 34-year-old singer and actress, who has never been one to steer clear of controversy.

Mai made a name for herself as a raunchy rock star, testing the bounds of what was acceptable in Thai society during the 1990s. Now she might be helping to make a name for Thai country music, which has often been looked down upon by city dwellers.

Mai has put together two 'special albums' that rely on some of the gems of the late queen of luk thung, Pumpuang Duangchan, a decade after her untimely death at 36. 'I believe that nowadays my fans have a more open mind to listen to new things,' said Mai, adding that the songs on her albums mix the old and the new to provide her own style. 'Luk thung songs display Thai identity, so when a pop-rock singer comes to luk thung we must be careful and make it the best.'

Luk thung has made a comeback after the 1997 economic crash in Thailand. A resurgence of patriotism, as Thais picked up their lives, saw Thai country music come back into favour.

Ironically, though, Mai joins a cast of popular characters, such as Monsit Komsoi, Jonas Anderson and Christy Gibson. If these last two names throw you, do not worry. Luk thung may be the beating heart of the Thai countryside, but it has not stopped Anderson, a Swede, and Gibson, who is Dutch, from becoming virtually overnight sensations. Both came to Thailand when they were young and picked up the language and the rhythmic beat of the country music.

Will Mai become the new queen of luk thung? She has had a hectic career in rock and pop, movies and as a model. She pushed her 'bad girl' image with risque performances and videos that left parents aghast. She also starred as the 'bad girl' in the eminently acceptable Thai classic movie, Suriyothai, based on the true story of a Thai queen who fought off a Burmese invasion centuries ago and died in battle. Mai is happy to further boost the music of farmers and labourers, encouraging city-slickers to tap their feet, especially when she does her own take on the songs sung by the legendary Pumpuang.

It may prove almost impossible to expect teenagers to dump Britney Spears or even their local pop star, Tata Young, to listen to the songs of their parents' era - and like them. Mai is not fazed by the challenge. She has pushed the limits before. Maybe it helps that Mai says she 'sings the songs from my heart'.

That, in fact, sums up luk thung songs; music sung from the heart.