Pranee Thanasri: Chown Tur Ten Rum (Ask You For a Dance)
Kana TNT: Kod Hang Kam (The Circle of Karma)
From Thai Funk: ZudRangMaa Vol. 1 (Zudrangma, 2010)

Sangthong Seesai: Kam Kao (Old Karma)
Soonthorn Sujaridchan / Krongthong Tussanaphan: OudTaLud Bump (Hustle Bump)
From Thai Funk: ZudRangMaa Vol. 2 (Zudrangma, 2010)

Kangwanprai Lukpetch: Chan Yak Kah Mia
Praiwan Lukpetch: Mai Eam Ruk
From Luk Thung! The Roots Of Thai Funk (Zudranama, 2010)

Ethnocentrist as I am, I’m always fascinated by how soul, funk and other American music styles influenced players across Asia. I’m actually working on a mix-CD as we speak, tentatively entitled Pass the Sriracha: Soul, Funk and Psych from the Asian Diaspora and man, had I come upon this trio of Thai funk comps earlier, I’d probably be tempted to hold back until I could study the genre a bit more.

I had written earlier about one of the best known Thai bands to get with the funky funk: the Impossibles. However, their best album was recorded for Phillips – most of the labels that housed the groups on these three comps were likely far less international and instead, representative of local recording industries that sprouted across Asia in the 1960s and ’70s.

I can only guess here but my sense is that the amount of American GIs traveling through the SEA region in the 1960s and ’70s helped to introduce a lot of Western pop styles to Thai musicians and what came of that contact can be incredibly surprising and entertaining. “Thai funk” is kind of a misnomer since a lot of the music on here seems as much influenced by garage rock or other pop styles as anything obviously from the R&B/funk world. In picking out a few selections, I wanted to balance between songs clearly nodding to American hits (covers or interpolations) and those that seem to be a more organic mesh between Western pop and Thai aesthetics.

That said though, the two songs I instantly gravitated towards on the first volume are “covers” of sorts. The first, “Chown Tur Tem Rum (Ask You For a Dance)” is obviously a take-off on “Funky Town” while equally cool, albeit also some what strange, is how “Kod Hang Kam (The Circle of Karma)” boosts from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

From Vol. 2, I took an instant liking to “Kam Kao (Old Karma)” which certainly sounds like a bit of the Beatles’ “Daytripper” as run through Memphis on its way out to Thailand. The tinny vocals just add a while other layers of sonic distinction. But on the funky funk tip? It’s all about “OudTaLud Bump (Hurtle Bump)” and its moog-ed out splendor.

Much as I did like the funk and disco-influenced material on the first two discs, it’s the third CD that left the greatest impression on me. Luk Thang! examines Thai music from the more rural areas. It seems they were as influenced by American R&B and rock too but it doesn’t seem as pop-driven. Instead, you find some of the most interesting material on all the albums. “Mai Eam Ruk” totally reminds me of a Colombian cumbia tune; if not for the language and the distinct bell, if you told me this was from El Banco Magdalena, I would have believed you! Meanwhile, “Chan Yak Kah Mia” sounds like a killer, home studio recorded single from some Midwest jazz band (who were also listening to some Mulatu). It’s one of the styles that sounds like nowhere/everywhere at once. Great, great stuff. Seriously, if you can only cop one of these, grab Luk Thang!.

All this and the packaging is incredible. Here’s a before/after photo of what the CDs come in vs. what they look like “unboxed”. Someone clearly put a lot of time and effort into making these special, even including a custom poster with each release! F— your MP3 albums.

BTW: these comps are limited to less than 1500 so if you want one, don’t hesitate to cop!