Hot-air balloons will be soaring over Chiang Mai next month to the rhythms of Tiger Drum Thailand
Tiger Drum Thailand will be performing at the Thailand International Balloon Festival in Chiang Mai next week and, if “Asura-Prahathan” – the percussion ensemble’s stunning recent debut show in Bangkok – was an indicator, the hot-air aviators are in for a treat.
“The balloon festival will be a chance to show our true identity to the world,” says founding member Kittichai Thaitae.
Kittichai wrote “Asura-Prahathan”, basically adding a new chapter to the classic Ramayana. He’d studied khon, the traditional masked-theatre form, but found it odd that, for all the yok rob (battle) scenes in the Ramayana, there’s no mention of the signalling that armies use in combat.
So he filled in the gap.
“The story starts in a city with an orchestra formed of eight giants who use drums and other traditional instruments to signal their intent to do battle with other cities.”
National Artist Kasem Thongaram (Khru Thoeng) provided the names for the giants and the title for the show.
Tiger Drum Thailand are well known at home through the TV contest “Thailand’s Got Talent”, having reached the semi-finals in Season 3 and presenting “Asura-Prahathan” during the fifth season.
In fact, they’re considered one of the highlight acts for the balloon festival, where they’ll perform on each of the three nights.
Kittichai likes to think that hot-air balloons – spheres floating in the air – fit well with his concept about giants. The group does use a giant drum, as well, signifying the festival’s “greatness”, he says.
“The eight giants from ‘Asura-Prahathan’ will jump out of balloons, as if from Heaven, and land on the big drums, creating a powerful sound.”
Tiger Drum Thailand began with Kittichai and five fellow College of Dramatic Arts students – Thapakorn Taewkratai, Asanee Jirayusayotin, Eakkaphan Mabandit, Patsorn Jittjeen and Thinnawat Thaitae. Chakaree Sengdam and Thakoon Boonma joined later, after jamming with Tiger Drum at the Tiger Maeklong Percussion Café near the Talad Rotfai night market.
A teacher had named the college’s football team the Tigers because all the players were born in the Year of the Tiger, Kittichai says. After the musician friends graduated, they borrowed the name for themselves.
“To be honest, I’d planned to work for my mother, who has a Thai-food restaurant in France, but I was refused a visa three times. I got a regular job here in Thailand, but it was too boring doing the same thing all the time.
“I was determined to buy drums and perform with my friends and we did several events, only to split up because we had different styles. My style is based on the cultural roots of drumming all over the world.”
Tiger Drum Thailand had a loose start in 2007, finally formalising as a working act in 2012.
“I wanted to work in the performing arts while studying at college and started collecting drums and other percussion instruments. I even got a Japanese taiko and went there to study it.”
Kittichai believes Thai drumming should be more varied – and there should be more drums, too. “And I have ideas about making Thai drums famous around the world,” he says. “I’ve studied several countries’ drumming roots and I build my own drums. I’ve learned about different accents that foreign players use, including some percussionists who did a workshop in Thailand. The most important thing is developing Thai drumming with originality and modernity, yet based in the classical Thai performing arts.”
Kittichai’s first instructor, Parinya Songsamut, owns a shop called Maeklong Percussion, and it was the two of them who opened the Tiger Maeklong Percussion Café in Chatuchak. “People think a drum has a only three or four sounds but, as my teacher says, there are more than 1,000,” Kittichai points out.
“Tiger Drum have been getting better and better since we began applying traditional foundations to theories of modernity. I like trying new things, such as using different sticks or brushes when I’m playing klong sabad chai [the sacred dance of the victory drum]. I’d discovered that players in our neighbouring countries experiment with different ways of striking the drums and percussion. Sometimes I don’t use sticks at all – just hands and elbows.
“Meanwhile you can also get some very weird sounds with different settings and tunings. I asked two traditional masters if they minded me playing in a non-traditional way and they agreed there’s nothing wrong with that. But you do have to know what you’re doing.
“At one event I wanted to lay a drum on my feet, but the organiser objected, saying it went against tradition. And yet a master told me I could do that. I think Thais tend to get stuck in traditions they don’t really understand. It’s a blind spot.”
Keep to the beat
- Tiger Drum Thailand will perform all three days of the Thailand International Balloon Festival, taking place at the Cowboy Army Riding Club (Larn Nern Noom) in Chiang Mai from March 2 to 4.
- Festival passes cost Bt300 per day (Bt100 for children seven to 12) at the gate and in advance at www.Eventbrite.com.