Review of the Album “World Folk Zen” (Audiophile Remaster Edition)

World Folk Zen (เวิลด์ โฟล์คเซน) is a solo album by ยืนยง โอภากุล Yuenyong Opakul, aka แอ๊ด คาราบาว Aed Carabao, originally released in 1991, and now digitally remastered. It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. BUY the new Audiophile Remaster Edition HERE from eThaiCD, where you can shop in English.

One of my favorite solo albums of ยืนยง โอภากุล Yuenyong Opakul, aka แอ๊ด คาราบาว Aed Carabao, which first came out in 1991, has just been rereleased, digitally remastered. This is an album that lives up to the promise of its title: World Folk Zen

Yes, it is international, in sound, concept, and even in language. Yes, it is about saving the Earth. Yes, the music is rousing and addictive, with twangy guitars. Yes, it is Asian. The music is at turns funny, profound, inspiring, angry, . . . and, as Zen encourages, immediate.

By my count, three of the top-100 “Carabao” songs are on this album. They come in the middle of the album and are completely addictive.

Add Carabao rarely sings in English, but four of the songs on this album include a verse or at least a few lines in English. These lines are sung or spoken by Todd Tongdee (ทอดด์ ทองดี), a singer/songwriter born in America who lives and works in Thailand (up until the present). In each case, the English sections represent the rest of the song quite well. If all you understand is the little section in English, you will get the jist of the song. Although, in “Luang Paw Prajak” (“หลวงพ่อประจักษ์”), the English words are alarming because they are shouted out at the end of the song: “THE ONLY MONK IN THE HISTORY OF THAILAND EVER PUT IN PRISON . . . FOR TRYING TO SAVE THE . . . FOREST!”

All of these songs are raw and real. With the mix of Thai and English language and Western and Asian sensibilities, the earnestness, and the “go way out on a limb” approach, it could have failed, but it sure didn’t! The opening song “Yuenyong as Neil Young” (“ยืนยงอย่างเนลยัง”), is an announcement by Add Carabao that he wants to be like his idol Neil Young including the harmonica and the songs that mean something. That’s what is said in Thai, while an English verse says:

“I’ve been banging these songs since the age of 15
And I’m wandering along
If you might take them to heart
Give them words of your own
Make a brand new song”

The next song “Crazy” (“บ้า”), similarly throws caution to the wind, telling a ridiculous story from the perspective of someone in a mental hospital, who is shouting nonsensical advice to a woman outside the gate whose car has broken down. The refrain of the song is “I’m not a bad person. It’s just that my thinking is bad.” And the last line of the song, is “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid!” At some point in the future, political correctness may turn on this song, but before that happens, like “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” it will have had a many-decades-long run as a fan favorite. Add said he got the idea for this song when he saw a mentally handicapped person was at his concert and he thought to himself, “I wonder how that person thinks?”

The next song “World” is perhaps the most famous of several Carabao “save the Earth” songs. There is an alarmingly high, sharp note near the beginning, almost a scream, then it settles into more of a lullaby. The English verses are not perfectly translated from the Thai, but they’re close enough. And a Thai song titled with the word “World” in English ought to be bilingual.

The next song “Rain, Land” “ฝนดิน” is also environmental, and in my opinion is way better than “World.” The tune is simple, folky, and completely addictive—-on a par with “This Land is Your Land.” Perhaps better. Although it’s all in Thai, you may not even notice any foreign language. It will just sweep you up.

The next two songs are equally good. “For Thailand” (“เพื่อเมืองไทย”) is more folky guitar that picks you up and makes you want go out and change the world for the better. . . or at least start cleaning the house. (I just read the The Thai Wikipedia article on this album which says the song began as a Coke commercial!) The song asks young people, in an open-ended way, “What will you do for Thailand?” The beauty of the song is is better appreciated if you know the concept of “Thainess” is often presented as a set of expectations that one must live up to. This song instead advises:

“Now the river of Thainess
goes however we go,
is as we are.
No exceptions ever
[If you] don’t try, of course, you won’t know.
It’s something deep from the thoughts in the heart.
If we have you teach, will you teach?
If [we] have you think, what will you think?
If we have you do, then what will you do?
Go ahead! Do it!”

The next song “The Arrow of Arjuna” (“ศรอรชุน”) is another simple song that is way better than a simple song should be: it’s a total earworm. I loved it before I could understand the words. And from the marching drumbeat, I got the main point even before I understand the words: it is an inspiring call to battle. According to Wikipedia, Arjuna is is a hero of an Indian epic, “an archer and a warrior accompanied by Lord Krishna” who “helped him destroy asuras (demons) who had been born in the form of humans on earth.” The translation of the refrain turns out to be:

“We are warriors. We are war. We fight injustice.
We are fighters. We are war. We fight with hearts/minds not with a weapon

We come fight together, each different one come to fight together and make war. That has a purpose.
Even if we must live, or if we must die, and the bones burn away to nothing, the soul still lives”

Another interesting song is “Saeng Dao” (“แสงดาว”), which sounds a little more Asian, with a tune that meanders along in an unexpected way, taking such strange turns that it is almost impossible to sing along to. This song is another with a complicated story to tell, about a women named “Saeng Dao” (or Starlight) who seems to have been helping as a medic for communists in the jungle when she died.

This album uses the directness of folk music to tell compelling stories bigger than the boundaries of Thailand.

[BELOW ARE THE SONGS FROM WORLD FOLK ZEN ALREADY TRANSLATED AT CARABAO IN ENGLISH (the album also contains 3 songs that I haven’t yet translated)]

World Folk Zen (Aed Carabao solo album 1991):
ยืนยงอย่างเนลยัง Yuenyong Yang Neil Young (Yuenyong as Neil Young)
บ้า Ba (Crazy) ✰✰✰
World [NOT A translation; already half in English] ✰✰
ฝนดิน Fon Din (Rain, Land) ✰✰✰
เพื่อเมืองไทย Peua Muang Thai (For Thailand) ✰✰✰
ศรอรชุน Son Arachun (The Arrow of Arjuna) ✰✰
แสงดาว Saeng Dao NEW!!

Lyrics Translations for the Band