Review of the Album “Poem” by Add Carabao

Album cover of "Poem"Add Carabao has a new compilation album of his most poetic songs in ultra-HD, with an English language title, “Poem,” and ITS AVAILABLE IN THE US ON AMAZON MUSIC! (And the fact that there is an English-language title means you don’t have to type in Thai to find it.) For the record, the Thai-language title of the album is “กวี” which means “Poet.”

The music is good enough to stand on its own, even if you don’t understand Thai, but if you want to be blown away, see how the lyrics translate into English. Because these songs have lyrics that more than double the impact of the music, often including a punchline that will take your breath away.

If I were to pick 15 songs that best demonstrate Add Carabao’s poetic abilities, I would have something very close this album. And they aren’t all famous songs. Don’t be fooled by “Talay Jai” (Ocean Heart) as the inevitable opening song (Add Carabao’s favorite). For instance, this album includes an inexplicably overlooked song that has long been my personal favorite: “Kwam Jing” (Truth), which totally works as an atheist hymn. “All the faith eclipses the thinking and dreaming one should have.” And, “It’s in the study of genuine truth/reality that the world spreads out for a person.”

In Mai Pai someone on a rainy moonlit night is composing a song on a bamboo flute: “I tease a song from the fingers that flutter/ from the rain’s pitter-patter/ from the heart that cares . . . about you.” And in the next moment, through the power of music, we are contemplating the oneness of the human race and of the universe in general.

Rang Koy (The Vulture Waits) is similarly powerful. The first verse sets up a wild scene in a jungle where a vulture waits (to eat those who die along the path). There are streams flowing out of sight and cliffs that defy the sky. The second verse explodes by asking, Who understands the life of music? (Where does music come from?). We should let it go (sing out) like streams flowing out of sight. Like cliffs that defy the sky! And, as in all these songs, the music almost tells the story by itself — in this case by including the chirping of birds and other jungle sounds.

Luk Lung Kee Mao (Son of the Drunken Uncle) is a long vivid story with a poetic punchline that I will not give away. (In audio of the debut performance of this song, I thought I heard a collective gasp from the audience.) I had long argued that “Son of the Drunken Uncle,” written for the band’s 25th anniversary was even better than “The Drunken Uncle” (a fan favorite from the very first Carabao album).

Lok Hang Kwam Rak (World of Love) is a song that makes you want to light candles and all hold hands (or that was one friend’s response to it). Rak Tong Su (Love Must Struggle) is Thailand’s “I Will Survive” [a breakup] song. Ngem Jai (An Opening in the Heart) s another wholesome campfire song that encourages people to open their hearts, just a crack, to each other and let the truth out.

There are many lighthearted, playful, and humorous songs as well: Phi Suea Nak Su (Fighter Butterfly) is an infectiously upbeat song about a butterfly continuing to fly even with injured wings. Bor Yere Joye (No Big Deal), uses a dismissive phrase in Chinese that Add’s mother used to say, to cheer up the downhearted. And Tawan Tok Din,  (The Sun Sets) goes on and on in a a silly 50s doo-op style, complete with falsetto voice, about the fact that people can’t survive a drowning. I did a direct translation then went online to ask “What the heck?” A friend suggested this was yet another song about impermanence.  And believe it or not, the song suddenly made sense to me.

There are several more songs that for the moment I will categorize as “interesting” as I still need to think it over and/or translate them: “Sai Tan Tee Huan Kuen,” (The River That Flows Back), invites Thai expats to return home, offering sympathy for their plight. It came out in 2006. Is it being intentionally recycled for the current moment? “Pukawatketa” is a song involving the characters Arjuna and Krishna from an Indian myth. I have already translated an Add Carabao song titled “The Arrow of Arjuna” and its amazing, so we shall see. “Lung Fang” sounds like many other Carabao songs about idylic/not so idylic farm life, but that is just a guess based on the sound of a rooster crowing. In Che’2018, Add Carabao takes a second run at memorializing Che Guevera, after regretting the result of an earlier attempt. Although this album’s version of “Che 2018” is in Thai, he also did a version in Spanish.

Below are the 15 songs as they are spelled on Amazon Music with hyperlinks to their translations here at Carabao in English. Four of the 15 songs already have rhyming translations, which I will link to. Three have not yet been translated.

Ta Lay Jai
Mai Pai
Rok Tong Su
Che’2018 (Thai Version)
Ngam Jai
Sai Taan Tee Huan Kuen
Luk Lung Kee Mao
Tawan Tok Din
Rang Koy
Phi Suea Nak Su
Lung Fang
Bor Yere Joye
Lok Hang Kwam Rak
Kwam Jing
Pukawatketa

I got an interview with Add Carabao once to pitch the idea of doing an album in English using singable translations of his Thai-language songs (such as my own translations) plus some of his existing English language songs. At one point during this out-of-body experience, I was shouting “People need to know that you’re A POET! You’re a POET!”

An English-language album finally did materialize and it’s terrible. New songs were written directly in English FOR Add Carabao by a Thai composer who is A) NOT Add Carabao, and B) not completely comfortable with English. You can read about it HERE. Meanwhile, my fantasy album demonstrating Add Carabao is a POET! He’s a POET! has arrived. It’s just that the songs are still in Thai. And maybe that’s OK.