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Q&A with Rasmee Wayrana

Time Out Bangkok meets the woman redefines Isan tunes.

It’s been nine months since Rasmee Wayrana released her first album Isan Soul. The singer and songwriter, recently honored with three Kom Chad Luek awards, specializes in molam and experimental music, and is now writing the lyrics for her second album together with guitarist Satukan “Kong” Tiya Tira. Her unique voice has managed to grab the attention of both Thai and international audiences including that of foreign bands like Poni Hoax (France), Limousine (France) and Bamako Express (Israel-Thailand), who have all invited her to collaborate and perform with them abroad.

 

You have refused to sign the contract with music companies. Why do you prefer to be an independent artist?

Rasmee: I don’t like the idea that I am not allowed to sing for others. I signed a five-year contract once when I was 14 and was contemplating about signing another one
after an audition, but I think it’s fate that I am not meant to be with any music company. 

 

What makes you confident that you can survive independently in the music industry?

Rasmee: I don’t think of this in a commercial way. It’s the musical experiment of a girl who has been singing since she was young. I don’t think of doing this for a living. This is why I want to do my own songs—for me and those around me to enjoy. 

Kong: Selling isn’t the first priority when we are making music. We are not doing it to please people. 

 

How do you get people to connect to molam?

Rasmee: It’s all about the feeling. Your voice is a special tool that you can use to communicate to an audience. Everyone may sing molam, but more people might want to listen to one particular genre over the other. I think the singer’s voice makes a difference.

 

Why are your songs often sad?

Rasmee: They are based on things that happened to me. So I reflect them through my lyrics. In the upcoming album, one song talks about discrimination in the music industry. There was a time we were told not to play molam in a shopping mall. When they found out there will be a phin [three-stringed lute] and khaen [bamboo mouth organ], they tried to stop us from playing. They only let us appear on the monitor but muted the sound. 

Kong: Some people didn’t get the idea. They allowed us onstage but didn’t turn the speakers on. They told us there was some problem, but the truth was it was because we were playing molam

 

Can you tell us more about  your second album?

Rasmee: The second album is a reflection on our society and culture, particularly our cuisine.
I love eating Thai bamboo curry. One song talks about how to make bamboo curry in a modern way. 

Kong: Foreigners who listen to this might get sentimental without realizing they are actually listening to songs about food and cooking. 

 

How is the molam in this upcoming album different from what you had in your first album?

Rasmee:It’s not gonna be the same since there are so many kinds of molam in Isan such as molam zing, molam toey, molam glone, molam tangwai. And that’s when it gets fun—I can adapt any kind of molam to my songs. My first album used molam putai, which is from the north and Isan, and molam toey, which was inspired by Pornsak Songsaeng (the master of the genre).
For my second album, I’ll go for molam klon nang bak teu, which sounds similar to the singing behind Thai shadow plays and molam ploen, which has joyful, exciting rhythms.

Kong: It will be a total surprise for the audience. It’s actually modern Isan rap. Rap backed up by an original culture. 

 

Do you think having a good voice is enough to survive in this industry?

Rasmee: No, it depends on other factors too like meeting the right people at the right time, getting to know people who are open to your music and want to support you, and the audience. When I play to an audience that really pays attention to what I sing, I feel connected to the moment. 

 

What do you like most about your job?

Rasmee: Not many musicians get to do what they love. But I’m a kind of person who never lies to herself on what to do. I follow my feelings. I’ve never framed myself into something that I’m not, and I’m so proud of that. 

 

How did you feel when you sang abroad for the first time?

Rasmee: Professional. Everything was so impressive—how people there take pleasure in music and how they support their country to have art and music on every corner. To me, that’s amazing. Even so, I don’t have plans of working abroad. I just want to perform as a quest artist. 

 

What’s your plan for the future?

Rasmee: I’m currently on tour and also working on my second album. I also want to learn more about music. At the moment, I just learn from listening and translating a melody into my language.

Kong: I would like to see Thai people recognize Isan songs from a different perspective. We just want to show that our country’s got amazing music too. To me, Isan songs are new and amazing. 

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