Rasmee, Emotion in motion

INTERVIEW

Rasmee, Emotion in motion
Catherine Vanesse

6 September 2018

After the huge critical success of her first EP, Isan Soul, which was released in 2015, Thai singer Rasmee Wayrana returns with a magnificent second opus, Arom. An opportunity to discover the traditional music of Isan, with its multiple influences, while awaiting her third album due out at the end of the year.

Recognised as the “best female artist of the year” in Thailand at the season awards last April, Rasmee Wayrana is a composer-performer from North-Eastern Thailand. She sings in Lao Isan and in Khmer Surin, two vernacular languages of the region, and does so in a style known as Molam.

“There are, however, as many types of Molam as there are dialects; it is difficult to know them all, to list them all”, explains the 34-year old from Nam Yuen, a town in the province of Ubon Ratchathani, during our meeting in Chiang Mai, her adopted city for more than 15 years.

When did you start singing?

I started at the age of five, thanks to my father, who was a singer-songwriter and teacher. He gave up music after meeting my mother, but in the evenings he taught me traditional Khmer songs. I was very young when I joined a local group and began a professional career, before stopping it when I got married and studied art in Chiang Mai. I was seven years older than the other students; it’s quite unusual for Thais to go back to school so late! At the age of thirteen, I did not have the chance to continue going to school as I was touring with the group and sending the money from the concerts back home.

Chiang Mai changed me. I met so many musicians there from so many walks of life, with all kinds of projects. This encouraged me to start singing again. I must have been 27 years old.

I met the group Limousine, with whom I toured in France. When I saw how people reacted to my music over there, I actually realised that Molam could work in any context. When I came home, I began to look for musicians. I really wanted to record my own album, just for fun.

Is it difficult for a woman to break into the music business in Thailand?

It was, particularly so in the past. Twenty years ago, I really tried. My father pushed me to break into the business, but at that time this involved signing a contract with a record company who could trap you for five years, during which time you were under their control. They tried to control your appearance, your way of being, even going so far as sexual relations with your manager. This happened to a lot of women. When I discovered all these stories, it was too much for me: I am a good singer, why can’t I not just sing my music? Why is it necessary to give anything else? I think that’s why Luk Thung music – ลูกทุ่ง (popular form of Thai country music, Editor’s Note) is so powerful. It comes from all these trials.

Tell us about Arom…

We had the chance to record some songs at Studio 28 in Bangkok. They offered us six hours of free recording! We really wanted to record there and worked on four tracks of the album. But we recorded this album too quickly. There are plenty of things we could change, but at the same time that’s why it’s called Arom (Emotions): it represents a moment of life that occurred at that particular time.

Did you produce this album yourself?

I always had a certain apprehension about belonging to a label, even if now the record companies offer to let me write what I like into the contract. I prefer to do everything myself: choose the musicians, the songs… I really let my musicians be a part of the project. They are really good, full of compassion. I let them play what they are feeling.

As with your EP, you have covered songs written by your father?

There are two songs on Arom that he wrote more than 20 years ago: Boonreun’s Love Song and Sin and virtue. They are the same songs that are on the EP Isan Soul, that I have adapted into new versions. My father died last year and didn’t get the chance to hear them.

Boonreun’s Love Song speaks about the people from the countryside who go to Bangkok to earn money and send it back to their family. In fact, I rewrote the song. My father wrote it from a male point of view; I covered it from a female point of view.

Sin and virtue is inspired by Buddhism and the idea of doing good things for oneself. I think this was the last life lesson he gave me.

Why is it important for you to sing Molam?

I have been singing Luk Thung and Molam since I was young. Jazz and the Blues are influences that came after. Molam represents my culture, my roots, what I learned from my father and what I know best. At the same time, I define myself more as a singer of Isan than of Molam. The music of Isan is a mixture of traditions: Khmer, Lao…

Is this musical style also often politicised?

It is difficult to take a political position in Thailand. I often try in my texts to draw attention to certain issues such as education, remote villages, child labour, where the children do not get the chance to go to school… Education is important. I may not be able to fix everything, but it can open up other perspectives to young people. There are so many problems with alcohol and drugs in these remote, and so little assisted, areas. The first thing I can do from my position is to talk about it in my songs.

Do you also advocate on behalf of women?

Some people think that I am a feminist because I wrote a song that speaks about the rights of women. Why can a woman not have three husbands, for example, when a man can have several wives? I wrote a song inspired by the life of my grandmother, who suffered all her life. She took care of her children while her husband was partying and bringing back other women. Why can a man act in this way but not a woman? In Thailand, there is still this idea of the woman who stays at home, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. They are criticised while nothing is said to men. I do not agree with this difference.

How would you define the music scene in Thailand?

Boring! No doubt there are still things I haven’t discovered, but one always hears the same thing, the same remakes. We should show more originality! Thai musicians are really good. They have their culture, their knowledge, but aren’t able to come together to create something different.

The next album?

It is almost finished! I plan to release it at the end of the year, still under the Rasmee name, even if it will be a little different with a musician from Sakhon Nakhon who plays the Molam style of that region. He is, in fact, the last person to know this music. Of course, for this next album I have adapted and rewritten the tracks by adding English, Lao… I am very excited about this new project.

www.facebook.com/Wayrana.Rasmee

Isan in Limousine

Founder of the Crépuscule des dinosaures, co-leader of Poni Hoax with Nicolas Ker, cre- dited with collaborations with Tony Allen, Cassius, Abd Al Malik and even Julien Doré, Laurent Bardainne has traveled the roads of Thailand all the way to Isan, accompanied by his friend from Limousine Maxime Delpierre.

The discovery of local styles of music and encounters with local musicians gave rise to a collaboration with Rasmee and an album that, together with the two The Sound of Siam albums compiled by Maft Sai and Chris Menist, members of The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band from the Studio Lam/ Zudrangma Records stable, greatly contributed to the popularisation of Isan Soul in France: Siam Roads.

www.facebook.com/LimousineBand

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