Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


CARAVAN (Thai group)

Long-lived and influential Thai rock and traditional music group formed c.1974; Thailand's most important group and one of the most important to have emerged from South East Asia. Personnel: Surachai Jantimatorn, acoustic guitar, vocals; Wirasak Suntornsri, acoustic and electric guitar; Mongkon Utok, vocals, pin whistles, harmonica; Tongkran Tana, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, violin and vocals. All play traditional Thai instruments; insightful material, often of a political nature, is sung in Thai. Like most popular music in Thailand, native and foreign, their recordings have been extensively pirated. Caravan Vol. 1 '75 (sometimes known as Kon gap Kwai ('Human With Buffalo'), Caravan Vol. 2 '76 (sometimes known as American Antarai ('Dangerous Americans') and the compilation Ruam Botpleng Sipsee Tulaa Siphok Vol. 2 '76 ('A Collection Of Songs For 14th October 1973, Vol. 2') featured Caravan, Khomchai, Ruam Kawn, Gammachon and Ton Glaa. Unusually the songs had no copyright credits; this also applied to an album by Gammachon and further volumes in 14th October 1973 series. The significance of that date (2516 in the Buddhist calendar) and the decision to omit credits was that many people feared for their safety in the aftermath of a student uprising which toppled the military regime of Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapass Charusathiara. The dream of democracy was crushed on 6 October 1976 as right-wing elements massacred students on the Thammasat campus, triggering the '76 coup; many student and left-wing radicals took shelter with the Communist Party of Thailand, including members of Caravan, who became part of an arts unit in Laos, as well as seeing active service in the armed forces. In 1979 the government declared an amnesty and the band's members gradually returned from exile '80-82.

Further albums included Deuanpen ('Full Moon') '82, the classic Kon Dtii Lèk ('Blacksmith') '83 and Live At The 50th Anniversary Of Thammasat University '84. Surachai Jantimatorn also recorded a series of solo or duo albums with other members of the band from '84 onwards. They collaborated with Terry Allen on the soundtrack of East German film-maker Wolf-Eckert Bühler's film Amerasia, subsequently released by Fate Records in USA '87; part of the soundtrack was also released in Thailand on Caravan's Live On Air '86. Albums such as 8th May 1985 '85 and U.S. J. Pan '87 demonstrated how much the group and recording technology had developed; the latter with its cover illustration of a water buffalo clad in stars and stripes reaffirmed their opposition to U.S. imperialism; the sly allusions to Japan were equally pointed. Concert recording Live In Japan At Taku Taku '88 also pointed to a growing awareness of the band outside their homeland and a growing pan-Asian consciousness; Caravan itself freely drew on regional folk musics but would also make use of Western melodies; in the case of 'Dawkmai Hai Kun' ('A Flower For You') on 8th May 1985 an Okinawan folk melody as interpreted by the Japanese-Okinawan group Champluse was the source. An excellent three-volume set of largely acoustic recordings was called Concert Amlaa Caravan Siphâa Bpii ('Caravan Farewell Concert After 15 Years') '89, in effect a retrospective; that year Concert For Unicef was released (recorded '83) as well as Surachai Jantimatorn's Mai Het Jaak Menang Jiin ('Footnotes From China'). Musically they play with a languid fluidity which can belie the hard-edged seriousness of their lyrics; while embracing modern technology they have remained true to their roots and distinctively Thai in character.