Last year, a highly-qualified translator who is a native Thai and is fluent in English volunteered to systematically check and suggest improvements for my translations of Carabao song lyrics. This is a huge project, and I thank this person (who wants to remain anonymous) from the bottom of my heart. I am thrilled to announce we have finished fixing the translations up through the album Made In Thailand.
You can now (as of Valentine’s Day 2020) read the translations of the early Carabao songs with confidence. I am happy to say, we didn’t have any changes that overturned the overall meaning of a song, but we did have at least three song translations that were radically improved. You might want to read their new translation and give these already fascinating songs a fresh listen:
Songs with radically improved translations:
Some important details were uncovered in at least two songs
In กัมพูชา Kampucha (Cambodia) about the Cambodian genocide there is an already evocative line: “In the end, when the guns stop roaring and echoing/ a plaid cloth [a pakaoma],/ blown away by the wind, falls to the ground.” The new translator notes that a pakama is used to cover the bodies of dead people lying on the ground, thus it is understood by Thais that the pakama is blown by the wind to fall on a dead body.
In the last last line of “เดือนเพ็ญ Duan Pen (Full Moon)” a child who is away wants to return and nestle in the bosom of their mother. I thought it odd that the person, most likely a soldier, misses their mother more than anyone else, and guessed that the “mother” is Thailand itself. But the new translator points out that it is also possible that the person wants to return to their wife, often also called “mae” or “mother” by the husband.
A newly translated song
The song “หำเทียม Ham Tiam (Dildo)” could not have been translated at all without the help of this person. To give you a taste of the complexity, which I could not have sorted out if I studied Thai for the rest of my life, here are the notes explaining the title of the song:
“The man in this song’s story is named ‘Ham,’ which is in the Isaan dialect, can mean either a ‘lad” or ‘penis’ or ‘testicles.’ ‘Ham’ is a cute and friendly word for ‘penis,’ . . . The title of the song is หำเทียม (Ham Tiam), means ‘artificial penis’ or ‘dildo,’ but refers to the longer word หำ[ผสม]เทียม Ham [Pasom] Tiam, which means ‘artificial-mixing penis,’ or ‘artificial insemination,’ . . .”
A Legacy for Fans and Future Researchers
I started this project using the “Fake it ‘til you make it!” approach. I was translating relying heavily on Thai2English.com and on begging friends for help. Because I translated the best songs first, at a time when I could barely translate, the best songs were often the worst translated, while very obscure songs are now receiving relatively deluxe treatment. From the start, I got in-depth help from knowledgeable volunteers to whom I am forever grateful. However, some of my helpers were other Farang translators, meaning we will inevitably miss out on some of the idioms, references, and word play. Other helpers were Thais who are not official translators.
The new translator is able to “read between the lines” and guess when Add Carabao is using a word other than his first choice in order to rhyme. This person is able to interpret an idiom in which all the words of the standard idiom have been swapped out for new words. They can note that two lines that I had separated are actually connected. They can explain why one song advises one to “Be the moon” and “put copper rings on the hands of each child” (because Add is referring to a children’s lullaby which every Thai person knows).
The importance of the project (I want to leave it as a resource to Carabao, international fans of Carabao and to scholarly music ethnologists) means it deserves more than just my own best efforts and sporadic advice from others. The songs deserve solid translations that you can trust! Which you now have.