Way before written word, stories of folklore, spiritual beliefs, and wisdom were passed down through generations by word of mouth. One such way for Laotians is through century-old folk music called ‘Molam’. A sung narrative, backed by the psychedelic tune of a bamboo mouth organ called the ‘Khane’. Today I’m eager to dig up Molam’s roots to see how it has evolved over the years.
Since the 17th Century, Molam was played across Laos, including its former part, ‘Isaan’ in Northeastern Thailand. Villagers looked up to Molam artists for their talents and worldly wisdom learned from monks. The lyrics were verses about folklore, religion, and struggles of life. With time, singers began improvising lyrics as villagers sought fun entertainment after a hard day’s work. They sang stories about love, courtship, and social commentary. The smaller audience gave them the freedom to mix in jokes, vulgarity, and sexual content, pretty much like ‘Netflix and chill’.
The difference between Molam in Laos and Thailand was made distinct with the arrival of American GIs in the Isaan province of Thailand during the Vietnam war in 1961. Aside from aircrafts and supplies, they also brought along their music culture. From Rock and Roll to Groove and Funk. Just the thought of being exposed to them all at the same time was a sensory overload for me. It was no doubt a period of experimentation for Thai Molam artists. The result was the combination of bass, guitar, and drums with troops of backup dancers inspired by the Moulin Rouge. The verses were inspired by the lives of immigrant workers: their dreams of a better future, homesickness, and love.
Even today, Thai Molam keeps reinventing itself with time, straying away from the purer and more traditional Laotian Molam. And unless you speak Isaan or Lao, it’s a losing battle to translate or understand what they are about. I think that’s the beauty of it. Well, it’s not really a case of sour grapes. I believe we listen to music more with our hearts then our minds. Hopefully I sparked your curiosity ! If this is your first time exploring the psychedelic Universe of Molam, I’d like to start you off with ‘Lao Lam Saravan’ a documentation recording by Laurent Jeanneau from the village in Southern Lao. The bright and powerful voice is sure to evoke your heart no matter it's depth. Enjoy !