CSEAS Seminar Series: Red and yellow songs: A history of Thai protest music

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Date(s) - 04/04/2013
9:30 am - 10:30 am

Elizabeth Burchill Room, Building 68, Monash University Clayton Campus


Presenter: Dr James Mitchell (Khon Kaen University)

The increase in social protest in Thailand since 2005 has been marked by a dramatic rise in the use of music for protest. This seminar examines the use of music by the yellow and red shirts, and contextualizes the PAD (Peoples Alliance for Democracy – yellow) and UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – red) within the history of two similarly named but very different genres of Thai song: phleng chiwit (life songs) and phleng phuea chiwit (songs for life). Phleng chiwit was part of a flowering of satirical art forms during Phibunsongkhram’s second term as prime minister (1948-1957) before censorship forced many songwriters to change to the new commercial genre of lukthung. Phleng phuea chiwit was the preferred music of leftist students within the pro-democracy movement of the 1970s. However, the rehabilitation of phleng phuea chiwit as the official Thai protest genre has disguised the role that lukthung played during the armed struggle of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). In examining the use of satirical songs and lukthung during the recent political struggle, it appears that the red shirts have accessed a wide range of memories, including the most powerful counter-hegemonic traditions, whereas the yellow shirts have drawn on a much narrower selection of hegemonic cultural memories.

James Mitchell studied for his PhD through the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, at Macquarie University, Australia. He is currently based, with his wife and four children, in Khon Kaen Thailand where he works in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Khon Kaen University. He is currently compiling a Thai 78 rpm discography in preparation for writing a history of Thai popular music.