Music can be heard in many forms in modern-day Thailand, from the thumping electronic dance beats at Bangkok’s cutting-edge nightclubs and luk teung folk music at a rural party, to the gentle court music that commonly accompanies Thai dance-drama performances. Both Thai music and dance feature prominently in traditional culture and across Thailand crooning contemporary music, often blaring out of karaoke machines, is very much a part of Thai life.
Thai music and dance have a deep-rooted connection in Thailand, and are also heavily associated with the theatre and royalty. Traditional dance is patient and graceful and the music unique. Visitors who take the time to attend a dinner and display will be enchanted by this well preserved cultural legacy. Those visiting Chiang Mai should arrange to attend a Khantoke dinner – a recently developed concept where northern food is eaten off floor level tables while Thai music and dance is performed in a traditional setting.
Dance was developed as a form by which to convey stories in classical Thai dance-drama to the accompaniment of music. Thai dance can be differentiated into two groups: classical and folk, with the former being traditionally performed for royalty and the latter for normal people.
The various forms of traditional Thai drama-dance include: khon masked plays that were once only performed for the royal court depicting episodes from the Ramakien (derived from India’s Ramayana); lakhon non-formal dance-dramas for both royal and general audiences; likay light-hearted folk plays featuring dance and drama; nang yai and nang talung southern Thai shadow puppets and hun grabawk puppet theatre.
Today, Thai dance is not just limited to the theatre. Thai dancing is now performed at many public ceremonies yet it is still commonly accompanied by traditional Thai music. Traditionally, dancers use items such as candles, scarves or long brass fingernails to enhance their performance, and they wear special costumes.
A classical Thai orchestra, or pii-phaat, with anything from five to 20 members and an amazing array of instruments, typically accompanies dance performances. Although originally formed just for Thai dance and drama, these orchestras now play at concerts, funerals, parties and temple fairs. Traditional Thai instruments include the ranaat ek, a form of xylophone, and the phin, a stringed instrument, and the music follows a unique tempo.
Although Thai music is traditionally largely associated with theatre and dance, modern-day Thailand has developed beyond its classical and folk origins and the age of rock, pop and indie has arrived, closely followed by electronic dance music. Perhaps the first most widespread genre of music to arrive after classical music was luk tung, or country music, largely sung by rural Thais and still hugely popular today. It has evolved into a contemporary mix of folk tunes played on electronic instruments with a distinctive up-tempo beat.
Thai dancing and traditional music is commonly performed for tourists throughout the country, and the government places great importance on keeping traditional dance and music alive. The thai are fabulous singers and performers with a natural confidence and the younger generation will be quite bemused by their on stage acts in night clubs or tourist bars.