Rare and Groovy Morlum 45rpms
There are enough foreign tourists to Thailand, and enough Thais spread over the world, that morlum music (sometimes transliterated as molam or morlam) has become a known quantity to connoisseurs of the strange, beautiful, and obscure. The popular music originates from Isan province, in the northeast near Laos, and is considered to be the ‘heartland’ music of Thailand. Youtube has many, many, morlum videos, most uploaded by Thais, which can offer a nice introduction to the current state of the music’s form.
However, there was a Golden Period when the music first emerged in which musicians mixed traditional instruments with electric rock instruments, often with analog synths or funky horn sections. Purists say that with the advent of the digital keyboard/drum machine, the music lost some of its magic and it is true that it now seems to have become mechanical and formulaic. The analog synths and horns and traditional instruments have largely been supplanted by MIDI-based replicants that offer the energy but not the resonance of the older style.
Last year, I was lucky enough to score some 45rpms from the Golden Period in the main market of the town of Nong Khai, in north Thailand. The people of the town actually use the market to buy daily goods and supplies—everything from blankets to electronics to clothing to food. There are also stalls selling odd-ball junk and knick-knacks for tourists. Stretching in a sinewy conglomeration of buildings that snakes along a boardwalk by the Mekong River, Laos on the opposite shore, the market presents a kind of sensory immersion that teeters on overload; funny smells and the press of sweaty bodies and the chatter of incomprehensible voices and the kaleidoscopic colors and shapes of all the goods for sale.
The record seller, like so many of these guys, was running a small stall selling vintage electronics along with records and tapes—the playback mechanisms for the archaic storage. I wish I could have bought his entire stock of vinyl but I was travelling by train with only a backpack and didn’t trust the Thai post to send stacks of rare vinyl to California intact. In the end, I bought about a dozen 45rpms.
Links to youtube videos of some of these tunes are below. I don’t speak Thai and don’t have easy access to translation right now so unfortunately these uploads lack the expected scholarly information about artists and bands and labels. I plan in the future to come correct on the research, but in the meantime, the tunes can be enjoyed on their own merit.
(If this stuff really works for you, check out the Sublime Frequencies double lp release , Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan.)