Majors and Minors: Thai music

Through Majors and Minors, I hope to bring music from various cultures to light. By interviewing international students and others with multicultural backgrounds, I want to learn and share both traditional and contemporary music from around the world — especially music that Tufts students listen to back home: in cafés doing work, at parties with friends and at home with family.

This is Titapa Chaiyakiturajai (known as Punpun), a first-year from Bangkok, Thailand. She’s thinking of becoming a quantitative economics major, she used to play the piano and her favorite food is hummus.


Haruka (H): What’s pop music in Thailand like?

Punpun (P): I would say 95 percent of pop music in Thailand is about heartbreak or romance. The songs are sad in a way, and tend to dwell on the past. I don’t think there is any cultural context for that. Of recent performers, Atom Chanagun is a pop musician who is always in the top charts.

H: What’s traditional Thai music like?

P: “Traditional” music is typically played with traditional Thai performing arts. Most traditional music was composed to accompany the performances. Uniquely Thai instruments are used to play Thai music, and they can accompany traditional dances, too.

H: Is there a tune that everyone knows in Thailand?

P: A super traditional collection of songs people generally know would be the soundtrack for this performance called Ramakien, a national epic turned stage performance. Thai schools teach this, like schools do Shakespeare [here in the United States], but this soundtrack is not something that people are talking about daily.

H: Does modern music incorporate more traditional styles?

P: No, I don’t think so. It’s completely independent.

H: Is music in Bangkok distinct from that of the rest of the country?

P: Very. People in Eastern Thailand, for instance, speak in a different dialect of Thai [than in Bangkok] so the songs and rhythms are integrated into the culture. Music in Bangkok is more modernized, and it’s where people speak in the more common Thai dialect. Northern/Southern Thailand has their own style too. Beats are dependent on the way people speak in the different regions. The tone of the song depends on artists, not where the music is from.

H: How, if in any way, do you find Thai music different from other music you’ve encountered?

P: Lyrics are sad, romance-centered … heartbreak songs. I don’t know if that’s common in the region, or a distinctly Thai thing.

While Punpun herself doesn’t tend to listen to Thai music, she was kind enough to share about her home culture. Here’s more about her personal musical taste:

H: What’s your favorite genre of music?

P: I don’t have one, but I love listening to indie!

H: Have you grown up knowing American music?

P: Yep.

H: When did you start getting into American music?

P: I started getting into American music early in middle school when I began attending summer sessions in the U.S. I started with High School Musical songs — they’re my childhood.

H: What’s been your favorite song at Tufts?

P: Tuftonia’s Day, of course!