This was the year Thai musicians united in their choice of theme – paying homage to His Majesty King Bhumibol
There was one theme that every Thai musician shared in 2017 – the life and death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The beloved monarch was the obvious choice in subject matter for our songwriters and producers, and each tune in its way has become a jewel in the crown of the late King as we continue to cherish his memory.
The first songs to appear about His Majesty shared in the spontaneous national outpouring of grief, shock and uncertainty at his death on October 13, 2016.
Among them were “Phor Khrub” (“Daddy”) by pop specialist Patiwet “Fongbeer” Uthaichalerm, “Chan Kerd Nai Ratchakaln Thee Kao” (“I Was Born in the Reign of King Rama IX”) by rocker Seksan “Sek Loso” Sukpimai and “Lao Soo Larn Fang” (“Story to Tell a Grandchild”) by luk thung artist Sala Khunawut.
Songs-for-lifer Yuenyong “Ad Carabao” Ophakul offered “Phor Bhumibol” (“Father Bhumibol”), Bodin “Pae” Chareunratch of Mild wrote “Kor Pen Kha Rong Phrabat Thuk Chart Pai” (“May You Forever Be My King”), and Trai “Boy” Bhumirat gave us “Bot Pleng Khong Phor” (“Song for Father”).
Kachorndej “Kob” Promraksa of rock band Big Ass contributed “Look Khor Sanya” (“I Promise”), veteran singer-songwriter Thaneth Warakulnukroh penned “13 Tula Nueng Toom Tong” (“October 13 at 7pm”), and Retrospect, another rock outfit, recorded “Khid Thueng Phor” (“Miss You, Dad”).
“I’d never written a song for the King before,” Fongbeer says. “This song I would describe as a personal letter of condolence. I left behind the standard song format of voice, hook and solo and wrote it straight from my heart. There’s an atmosphere of heavy rain and the outpouring of grief – it says in the first verse that the tears of the Thai people flow even harder than the rain.
“I’m like a child of the father of the nation talking about my feelings for him. And, rather than look for someone else to sing this song, I decided to sing it myself. It’s very different from my usual love songs. I didn’t have to use my imagination for the lyrics – I’ve loved the King since the day I was born.”
Sek Loso says he first came up with the phrase “this song is for my father”.
“In the first verse I say I was born in the reign of King Rama IX, just like 80 per cent of all Thai people. The lyrics say I love the King and will try to do good according to his guidance.”
Khru Sala was imagining himself sitting weeping by a picture of the King and being asked by a grandchild why he was crying.
“The grandchild represents the generation just being born, after his reign, who will wonder about the man in the picture making their parents cry. I think the best thing we can all do is follow the King’s guidance – do good and be united. He is still very much part of our lives.”
Ad Carabao took his inspiration from well-known photos of the King visiting people upcountry.
“There is no monarch in the world like His Majesty the late King Bhumibol, who put his knowledge at the disposal of his people,” he says. “My aim was to convey the message that Thais should follow in the King’s footsteps and continue to develop our country creatively and economically.”
Pae Mild also set out to write “the tale of a father”.
“I wanted the generation to come to know his story and why the King was called ‘Father’. I started writing the song while watching the early biographical tributes aired on TV. The King always said it’s hard to be a good man because being good takes perseverance, diligence and tolerance.”
The music video accompanying Thaneth’s song opens with the sound of a ticking clock. “That represents the void Thai people felt at hearing the announcement on October 13,” he says.
Nap Retrospect describes his band’s music video. “There are scenes of people mourning and footage of several violent events, and then it ends with the King’s undertakings for his people. I’d love for everybody to follow the King’s guidance and do good in his name.”
Once the initial shock of the loss began to wear off, the commemorative songs became more contemplative, particularly as the late funeral neared. Most reminded us that the late King would remain in our hearts only if we did followed his example in showing each other love and caring. It was also important, the songwriters cautioned, to pursue the royal philosophy of self-sufficiency.
Pongprom Snitwong Na Ayuthaya conceived a requiem to His Majesty, a first for Thailand. “Phra Phu Ma Prode” (“Phra Mahadhamracha Bhumibol” in English), the recorded version was nearly 12 minutes long.
Pongprom and his producers assembled 160 traditional Thai musicians and foreign talent to record the work in four segments – “Krab Phrabat”, “Phra Bodhisattva Song Juti” (“The Incarnation of Phra Bodhisattva”), “Prach Haeng Din Lae Nam” (“Philosopher of Earth and Water”) and “Krab Bangkhom La”.
“The first part offers condolences,” Pongprom says. “It opens with the sound of Ajarn Thanis Sriklindee’s khlui and continues in a minor key to convey the people’s sense of loneliness and grief.
“Traditional Thai music and singing are prominent in the second part and a tabla drum helps convey the mood of Thai and Brahmin music.
“Then it segues into modern classical music, with a light mood and tone. This part features five verses related to the late King’s wisdom and guidance, such as ‘We shall reign in righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people’. It also covers the sufficiency philosophy, the cultivation of three kinds of forests for four benefits, by which trees should be planted first in the hearts of the people.
“And the requiem ends with ‘Thawai Bangkom La’, which explains how the King dedicated himself body and soul to improving water management and reversing the effects of soil erosion throughout his 70 years on the throne. We must continue the late King’s commitments.”