ສະບາຍດີປີໃຫມ່ and Happy New Year everybody! It's me, Catzie Vilayphonh, here to bless you with a mixtape #FawnLumGuhn to help you get your Lao New Year celebrations in order. Ok so, technically it's not a mixtape because there's no tape - it's just a mix. My inspiration came from last year's event, our very first #BLESSED Pop-up Dinner, where I made a Youtube playlist that set the soundtrack backdrop, because karaoke videos were what I often saw playing in the Lao homes I visited. This mixtape grew out of that, so I thought I'd bring it full circle by providing the videos that go with each track.
I'd like to first get this out the way and say: This is not meant to be an ultimate playlist. I am no way claiming these are the must-have, must-learn, must-know songs for a proper LNY celebration. What these 19 songs represent are simply my favorites when getting in the mood for "Lao things". In my role as Creative Director for LITH, I've listened to and used Lao songs for various occasions, including our Laos In The House Guest videos. As MC and Program Coordinator for Legacies of War's Fashion For Philanthropy (two years in a row, baby!), I had the lucky job of setting up the dancefloor for lumvong. This mixtape was a natural next step. Heck, maybe next year I'll be in a band. Ehhh, maybe not.
For song titles, I used both their official Lao spelling and what I think is the best English transliteration for consistency. Because there aren't equivalent letter/character sounds between the two languages, there are variations among the English titles - so for example I will use "lum" whereas on the accompanying Youtube video it might spelled "lam", but in Lao it's always . As mentioned before, I have a personal emotion attached to each song, so that story accompanies my descriptions for them.
Before we get started, I just wanna shoutout my friend and artist Chantala Khommanivanh for providing the #FawnLumGuhn cover illustration. Having just released an album himself, with his group Maintenance Crew, Chantala was the perfect person for this project. Plus he's pretty damn talented. We went back and forth about ideas and ending up with this masterpiece - see if you can spot a certain U.S. President doing lumvong from his trip to Laos last year. Let's have a listen, shall we?
2. Lam Salavan
Couldn't do a Lao mixtape without it's official song Lum Salavan. Named after the Salavanh province, this song is most remembered for it's chorus instruction to get down literally, "dia lohng" means to get down and is the choice party song for many abled bodied dancers with strong knees and good backs. The singer Latsamy (also spelled Ratsamy, but I'm going by her Facebook name) does a rendition that's particularly nice because she can do the "Lao yodel" a quivering of the vocal chords that you'll noticed she ends many of her words with. I let this play out until the end because she finishes the song by saying "Boy, if you like to have a good time, give me a call". She's a sassy one that Latsamy.
Oh and if this song sounds familiar, it's because it's also your favorite Lao rappers favorite Lao song too - sampled in "" by BGZTV, Say it loud say it proud.
I wasn't sure if following up with a slow song was the right move, but since this talks about the inclusiveness of being Lao, why the heck not. The title implies the samesness that the listeners are also Lao, so we're all Lao together. Here's little sampling of the lyrics:
"You are Lao, I am Lao,
To the left is Lao, to the right is Lao,
Up North is Lao, down South is Lao"
You get the picture: we're all Lao, so let's take care of each other - and that's what I'm hoping with this mix. Despite where we all might be in terms of our Lao identity - as Lao nationals or American immigrants, 2nd generation or mixed - we can't be we if we don't include each other. Every time I've listened to this it always gets me in the mood to hang with my Lao peoples, eat Lao foods and do Lao things. Laoooooo!
2. Lam Salavan
Couldn't do a Lao mixtape without it's official song Lum Salavan. Latsamy's rendition is particular nice because she can do the "Lao yodel" a quivering of the note that was only seen by classic Lao singers. I let this play out until the end because she finishes the song by literally saying "Boy, if you like to have a good time, give me a call". And if this songs sounds familiar it's because it's also your favorite Lao rappers favorite song too - sampled in "" by BGZTV
3. Lum Tung Wai
By far, my favorite dance party song, it's the Nyork, Nyork part that gets me. Lao songs like to have a call-and-response, and this is one of them, followed by a Heeeeeoooo that makes you wanna drop a Brrrrrrrrrr. By the way, I have no idea what any of these sounds mean, they kinda sound like fun things to shout when you're having a good time - but if any of you out there know, do share! In this version, the singer has a cute crack in her voice, she sounds like she would be a good friend.
First time I remember this song, was in Seattle watching the Kinally Dance Camp. I overheard a girl tell her dad when they practiced to the Nyork Nyork they had to be sassy and shake those hips. See.
4. Sao Khaen Fai
Here name says Wonrat but people in Laos knew her as Jew Amonrat, and I think she might be their Beyonce (I hope Beyhive don't come for me), her videos reach in the millions and they're all done well. The title means Cotton Thread Girl, and Amonrat composed this song with help from a music teacher in Laos, as she is from Isaan, a province in Thailand that formerly belonged to Laos, with many of the people who still live there speaking Lao. We'll get to this a little later. I gotta watch for Beyhive.
5. Lum Salavan (Pard Tin Tarn)
This a bouncier version than Latsamy's, and you can hear the guitar. It's almost like the singer, Sittiphone had to add more syllables to keep up with the uptempo beat, singing "dia lohng ga Salavan, dieng loeng, ow!" The original video where I found this song had "Pard Tin Tarn" in the title, which means being away from one's homeland, though not sure what it means for the song.
And for you dirty-minded folks, at he says "bai vee" (touch the comb) not "bai hee" (touch the cooch), although right afterwards he does says "dohp gohn" (smack the butt). This is a very interactive song.
6. Savan Lao
No doubt because they say the Nyork, Nyork this is a modern Lum Tung Wai variation, and some places that play this song call it such, even though the official name is Savan Muang Lao which means "The Heaven of Laos". Amonrat sings about all the beauty and magnificence that is Laos (including how technologically advanced the hydroelelectric dams are!), and for the 2nd half of the song calls out its cities and provinces including Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Xieng Kuong, Champasak, and Pakse. The intro itself borrows from a classic mor lum line switching "Vientiane" (capital of Laos) for "Muang Lao":
Whoever says that Laos is a sad place
That's their opinion
For it will return
to its prior greatness"
So we're back to question again of how identity is intersected through culture and geography. Here an Isaan girl whose official passport ID will state she is a Thai national, sings a love song about her beloved Laos and makes the point to use the word "pinong" to imply we're all family. It gets me excited to be someone Lao.
7. Lumputai By Phouvong Phetphouthong
Pu Thai is actually the name of another ethnic group in Laos (and Thailand) and Lum Pu Thai are usually courtship songs and this is a pretty sexy one. I mean the first lines go "Oh girl so pretty". If you keep listening you'll hear a very subtle "ma der" (come here) near the end. Flirty lyrics aside, Phouvong does a lot of ceremonial things in the video, like getting the sukwon wrist blessings.
In the version used in our House Guest video, the woman sings of a lost husband, perhaps to signify she's single and available. Hey, ya gotta move on.
8. "Huk Sao Ttahn Ppiao" by Manit Phiavongsa.
I have no idea how I found this song but I liked the old school feel of this video because those 90's haircuts just took me back. I asked Xai from Lao Heritage Foundation and he said: Not sure about the translation of the title. Could be the name of a village, or if translated literally, "Ttahn Ppaio" is a lone palm tree.
I think too part of why I'm intrigued by this song is because there's a very cha cha cha, Spanish influence that I'm picking up. In the film Don't Think I've Forgotten, about Cambodia's Rock & Roll scene before the war, I learned that Afro-Caribbean music made its way to Khmer radio and I wonder if perhaps it also wandered into Laos as well.
9. Nong Ben Sao Khon Khaen
I grew up listening to this song, but in this version the singer says words in Thai (like "chai" instead of jai, which is how I learned it). This is because it's luk thung song, a style of Thai music about rural people, most notably in the Isaan area. In the lyrics she's singing about a being girl from Khon Khaen in Isaan, whose never had a boyfriend.
Another discussion up for debate has been whether Isaan people should be considered Lao or Thai, and therefore should they be called Lao Isaan, Thai Isaan, Lao-Thai Isaan, or Thai-Lao Isaan. However, in the lyrics it says "They say I'm Lao, from Isaan", so maybe there's your answer?
Geography and politics aside, the melody gives me nostalgia - not to mention that 80's looking car which serves as a placeholder image for the entire video goes with the bow-chicka-bow-wow-esque melody. If you want a singer and backup dancer setup here's that link.
10. Koy Ben Lao by Syvixai Palatvong
A song which is unapologetically Lao (the title means "I am Lao"), the majority of the song is made up of all the foods our people like to eat. Yeah there's some other stuff in there about things we do such as in the evenings dance lumvong and drink lao Lao (rice whiskey), but the rest is dedicated to dishes: sticky rice, smoked chilli sauce, grilled chicken, red ant eggs, fried bugs, beef jerky, grasshoppers, pickled anchovies - you get it. We like to eat. As demonstrated by the last lines:
"Up North they eat bread,
but I'm still Lao, I only eat sticky rice"
Sorry not sorry -- I mean, kaw toht baw kaw toht.
11. Siengkhan Tanjai
This is obviously a modern song, but what's special here is the featuring of the khaen, considered to be the quintessential instrument of classic Lao music. Although it's seen in many music videos, it's not heard distinctively, but here it's being played very clearly as it's also the subject of the song: a girl who loves a boy who plays the khaen is heartbroken because he no longer comes around anymore. An interesting note since playing the khaen was how courting a potential boo happened back in the day. For dramatic flare the title loosely translates to "The Sound of the Kaen as a Substitute For The Heart".
10. Kuptoom Luang Prabang by Phone Phoummithone
I wasn't sure to include this one, it's a live version and some of the musicians are offbeat in the beginning, which made it hard to mix. However it is another great call-and-response song where the chorus sings "yer kow bai" (keep on going/singing) and there's one guy who adds a "heya, heya, heya, heyaaa" which you would normally hear in another classic song Khonesavanh. My favorite thing about this version are the breaks because the singer gets to sing a few verses a cappella, you don't really hear that being done. Of course I couldn't talk about this song without mentioning my friend Lina Luangrath whose Youtube cover introduced the song to me. Like Lum Salavan, Kuptoom Luang Prabang is named after the specific region in Laos it comes from, and so because my family is from Vientiane I didn't grow up learning this song, but it's become one of my favorites Lao melodies.
11. Sabaidee Luang Prabang by Anousone Phaiyasith
Here we're getting into the Basalop, the light rock, which starts the frenzy of line dancing at Lao parties. I like this version because the singer is singing a love letter to Luang Prabang, and she calls out Ya Yer and Pa Yer, the grandmom and grandfather spirits that show up at Lao New Year parades in the north. Again, these are things I didn't grow up knowing so I'm learning alot just by listening to these songs.
12. Tingnoi PointPaiLin
Another basalop song. To be honest, I was attracted to "tingnoi" in the title and thought this might be the "ting noi noi" song my mom sings to my daughter, but it's not - that's the singer's name. However I was playing this in the car when I had to chauffer an auntie from the temple one Sunday and she started singing along, saying she hadn't heard this in so long, so I felt validated.
The original original composer and singer of this song is Khamla Norkeo.
13. Tai Dum Lum Pun
Despite the upbeat tempo, this song is an incredibly sad one. The title translates into "Tai dum Blues", and sings of the memories of longing for home. It's sung by Kor Viseth who is also of the Tai Dum ethnic group, and includes that "yer kow bai" heard in Kuptoom, and features a "rap" which is so classic mor lum:
"When thinking about it, the Tais' tear are pouring
When we're so far awar from Son La,
as refugees in soe other place
Every Tai Dam still thinks about it every day"
Knowing this is a song I grew up to it, listening to it again gives me some childhood happiness. I never paid attention to the lyrics to understand it's meaning, so now that I'm older I can certainly appreciate the purpose of why it was written.
14. Kub Ngum "Bao Kham Ngum" "Guy from Kham Kgum River"
This song makes me want to do bodyrolls. 'Nuff said.
15. Kyo Sao Kham Gnum
Like the previous song, this song is about romance by the Kham Ngum river. It must have been poppin' there back in the day, apparently all the pretty bachelorettes were river girls. Anyway the song is sung by a famous husband-and-wife duo, who even through she is older than him, they still use Ai (older brother) and nong (younger sister) when referring to each other. This might come from the idea that a man is expected to be older/wiser and offer his love as protection. Another explanation is perhaps because saying "I love you" straight out in Lao "Koy huk jow" doesn't sounds as flowery as "Ai huk nong/Nong huk ai".
I enjoy the flute playing in the beginning, but also because I get to hear my official Lao name being sung. And no I'm not going to share what that name is, that will be another post.
16. Souk San Van Pi Mai
Phouvieng and her boo back at it again. There are many versions but I prefer theirs because you can hear their enunciations better, very helpful if you're trying to learn the words. Officially the song for celebrations, the title means "Happy New Year" not to be confused with "Sabaidee Pi Mai" which is used for a greeting. In the video you see traditions like the throwing of the water, and both singers are wearing leis, given to them by fans who enjoy their singing.
17. La Gon Jark
The title translates to "Bidding Farewell Before We Part" but most just call this "The Goodbye Song." Played at the end of an event to signal it's time, which - let's be real - sometimes we need because there's always that person who wants to keep the party going. The first time I heard this song was at the first Lao Writers Summit in Minnesota in 2011, everyone who had performed was called back onstage to help signal the ending number. It seemed like everybody else knew to wave goodbye and sing the lyrics except me. Not anymore, not anymore. Look at me now, I made a whole Lao music mixtape! #FawnLumGuhn
Well I hope you've enjoyed Fawn Lum Guhn as much as I enjoyed making it, and you learned more about Lao culture as I sure did. If you'd like to play the videos as a set as well, here'e the entire Youtube playlist. Did these songs put you in a mood like they did for me? Did any of your faves make it into the track list? Thoughts on my current selections? Let me know!