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The roles of Phleng phuea chiwit music (songs for life) in forming identities within the forces of globalisation in Thailand: Individuated perspectives similar to ‘Sufficiency’ philosophies

posted on 28.08.2018, 00:00 by Bernadette RyanBernadette Ryan
Phleng phuea chiwit literally means ‘songs for life’ in Thai. The musicians who create ‘songs for life’ established their place in Thai popular music history in the 1970s, during the people’s revolution for democracy. Since then, this music genre remains identified with protest and counter-cultural songs that aim to inspire people to “fight” for a better life. The success of open economy globalisation from 1980 to 1996 brought decades of prosperity to Thai society. Thai business industrialists became prime ministers, and two populist political groups emerged: the rural and the urban. During this time, phleng phuea chiwit musicians expanded their critical horizons to create songs concerned about capitalism, imperialism, industrialism, corruption, and the socially disadvantaged. Decades of economic boom left few Thais prepared for the shock of the Thai financial crises of 1997/1998. Thais awakened to the financial vulnerability of their open business policies. Around this time, the phleng phuea chiwit musicians made a shift in their song commentaries to sing about love and emotional concerns. This shift tarnished their sincerity as activists, for the new songs about loneliness, greed, anxiety, despair, weariness, and love, were not considered to be songs that inspired people to fight for a better life. Critics said that the genre was just like other Thai popular music. In 2000, responding to the effects of the financial crisis, the Thai National Development Board in Thailand brought forward The Philosophy of ‘Sufficiency’ Economy as a guide for the behavioral conduct for all Thais in order to modernise in line with globalisation. The ‘Sufficiency’ philosophy brought forward the Middle Path understanding that sustainability and self-reliance was necessary for security against the potentially damaging forces of globalisation. With this in mind, this study compares and contrasts phleng phuea chiwit musicians’ beliefs about the ways they think people should think and act for a better life in the future with ideas of the ‘Sufficiency’ philosophy. Quantitative and qualitative data collected in Thailand in 2011 and 2012 provides the primary resources for this study. 34 individual phleng phuea chiwit musicians contributed survey and interview data for this study. Case studies of two groups of musicians from two different locations were conducted to analyse similarities and differences between 14 rural musicians from Khon Kaen in the Northeastern Isan region and 20 musicians from metropolitan Bangkok. This study explores a series of questions around whether or not phleng phuea chiwit musicians are still creating counter-cultural songs’ commentaries for a better life in the new millennium. The contribution this study makes towards understanding the music of phleng phuea chiwit is vastly enriched by the musicians’ explanations about their music, as they clearly delineate phleng phuea chiwit’s difference from other Thai popular music.



Central Queensland University

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Professor Donna Lee Brien ; Dr Judith Brown ; Dr Derrin Kerr

Thesis Type

Doctoral Thesis