Carabao: 40 years of Legendary Songs for Life
Interview by The People Co. Premiered Sep 18, 2023
ANNOUNCEMENT: REPORTERS LOOKING FOR ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FAN COMMENTARY ON CARABAO AFTER THE ANNOUNCED BREAK-UP OF THE BAND CAN CONTACT ME AT THE EMAIL ADDRESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WEBSITE.
The translated intro from The People Co., begins, “The People” interviews the core members of the band, including Add – Yeunyong Opakul, Lek – Preecha Chanapai, and Thierry Mekwattana, who are members who created legendary ‘Songs for Life’ ever since the album Made in Thailand, which is packed with timeless songs.”
I’ve translated the interview in full. The video begins with highlights from the full interview. These comments are out of context, and will come up again in context, so I didn’t translate them. So my transcript begins at minute 1:32. I’ve added some of my own headings in green, in addition to translations of the text headings provided in the video.
DISCLAIMER: This translation has not been checked by a second translator. Consider it an aid to further research. That is before you depend on it, check the translation yourself.
[The words on the black screen: “40 years Carabao. From the start of the fight/struggle until today they are a legend.” Bua Loy plays in background]
Add’s early musical influences
Add: My life of music began from home because my father was a musician and the leader of a provincial band: Ch. S. P. Band, or Band of the People of Suphan. I came up seeing only musical instruments filling the whole house. So I came into Bangkok and sang folk songs. I graduated from Uthen [Uthenthawai Vocational School] here, then went on to further studies in the Philippines. I intended to study and graduate as an architect, but as soon as I got to the Phillipines, I encountered a song that had just come out in 1976. It was the song Freddie Aguilar’s song “Anak.” I liked this song a lot, and it was the inspiration for the first song I wrote, the song “Lung Kee Mao” (“Drunken Uncle”). As soon as I heard this song, I thought, I need to be a songwriter. I wanted to be a songwriter. That was the minute that changed my life. When I got back to Thailand, I worked in the Housing Department. But still continued to play music. I didn’t give it up. At that time, I lived with Kai [Sanit Simsala]. At that house, Kai had a turntable, but there was no speaker. We only had headphones. I got Led Zeppelin. I had the Eagles. I had Rod Stewart, I had many, many people. It was something that added to my spirit in the way of music so my knowledge greatly increased. I was born into the local culture, but as soon as went and got the Western influence, there was a blending.
[The heading says: “Num Suphan” (“Young Man from Suphan”)* Album “Kee Mao”(“The Drunkard’)]
Add meets Lek and Theirry
Add: I met Lek [Preecha Chanapai] in school when I was at Utaen. I saw him exchanging punches with a friend of mine. [They all laugh at Lek] Oh! I was watching [thinking], “This guy can’t fight at all.” [Everyone laughs] And that guy was bigger than him too.
Lek: I can’t remember anymore
Someone off camera: How did it end, Pi Lek?
Add: But P’Lek was totally the musician of the school, and when there was a school event, P’Lek would get up and play. Back then I was like, “Whoa! This playing is beyond the ordinary!” Back then, Lek played bass. Did you play with Mook? Mook played guitar and violin. Lek played bass back then. Whao! So cool! A friend of ours.
Theirry: At that time, I also played folk songs with P’Lek, you know! Three of us.
Theirry: And P’Add came to Nana school. When I first knew P’Add, I’d only say “Hello” [and wai]. He would come sit and watch, we were like whatever, and didn’t chat, and only said “Hello, Brother” [and wai.] P’Add invited us to be in a band with him. I told him I couldn’t do it because now I was going to a foreign country.**
Add gets fired from his gig for for playing a Thai song (Lung Kee Mao) at the urging of Lek/ Lek joins Add’s band.
Add: I didn’t have a band. It was me trying to find a band. I didn’t have a band. When I made the first album “Lung Kee Mao,” it was like P’Lek has said, [like] a solo album. But I used the band Hope, a band of P’Suthep as backup. In those days, I played at Dicken’s Pub. I played with Suthep of Hope. And P’Lek came in with … was it … or not. Three of them.
Lek: At that time, I was drunk.
Add: Drunk. At that time, he had just stopped. And he asked for the song “Lung Kee Mao” (“Drunken Uncle.”) I told him, “Oh, they don’t let us sing Thai songs,” [and he was like] “No, I’ll listen. I’ll listen. Just play!”
[“Lung Kee Mao” plays]
Add: As soon as I played, the manager comes out and says, “You! Get out! I already told you not to play Thai songs, and what song are you playing? This is a restaurant selling alcohol. And what are you singing? A song where a drunkard drinks, lies down, and dies!” So I lost my job as of that day. And P’Suthep kicked me out of the band as well. So I told Keo [Kirati Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn]. And Keo had to decide, would he go with P’Suthep or would he come with me? Keo said he would come with me. So Lek said, “I caused you to lose your job, I’ll come with you. I’d better come help you out.” And so we came and made Bpae Kaai Kuat (The Bottle Collector) together. It was recorded at Flat … 2, of Lek’s. We sat and made it together.
[The song “Bpae Kaai Kuat” plays] Heading says “Formation, ‘Bpae Kaai Kuat’(The Bottle Collector]-‘Wanipok’(The Busker)”]
Add works at the Housing Department while building a musical career
Add: At that time, I worked in the Housing Department. I was lucky that I had a boss that was P’Ganak Buddhinan, who was the older brother of P’Der- Rewat Buddhinan [a founder of Grammy Entertainment], and it so happened that a relative of P’Der was married to my older sister. And so we were all related. We were “pickeled” together. And so it was comfortable. Back then I still didn’t know we were going to be successful in — whether we could make a living from it or not. So first we had to hold onto [our] careers, even though the monthly salary wasn’t that high. I started at 3,030 [baht] ($84) [per month]. But to pay for one room, it was OK, because that room Flat 17, was the product of my work — “Wanipok” and all the various other [songs] — those products. I did it for 5 years, and then I did, “Made in Thailand” and experienced success. I didn’t have any time to come sit and work [at the office]. At that point, I needed to work with music.
[“Wanipok” plays. Heading says “WanipoK, the album Wanipok”]
Add: Honestly, the songs on the album Wanipok are what allowed us to announce our birth before Made In Thailand [came along] as well. But Made in Thailand was then our peak period. P’Der said it was 5 million cassettes tapes. Because we didn’t … we had Grammy be the ones to sell it. It was the best-selling album. But we already had money in the millions [of baht] [tens of thousands of dollars] after Wanipok. When I first invited Lek and Keo to come [join me], I told them, in 3 years, we are going to have money in the millions. But it was in just one year, one year only, that we had money in the millions.
[Made in Thailand plays. Header says, “’Made in Thailand,’ An Immortal Album”]
Made in Thailand, “Nang Ngam Dtu Grajok” (“Glass Cabinet Beauty Queen”), and the issue of prostitution in Thailand
Add: Whoa! It came from each individual band member, whether it was rock, as with the songs Luuk Gaew, Luuk Hin, and whatever like these. It came from Thierry with regards to cords and whatever. If you name it like Americans [would], you could say it’s style is “Americana.” Or call it whatever you want. There was country, blues, folk; it had all sorts of things mixed together. But our style was “Americana, Thai-style.”
Add: I determined that P’Lek would sing songs about children and their families. Thierry would do love songs. I would sing songs about society. I assigned it like this.
Person off camera: There was only one song that P’Thierry sang on the album “Made in Thailand,” and that was the song “Nang Ngam Dtu Grajok.” [“Glass Cabinet Beauty Queen”]. Why was it Thierry who sang it?
Thierry: Yeah, exactly. [Meaning, “good question!”]
Add: It was appropriate that he do it [laughs].
Thierry: There are two people together. Two people. When he [wrote] “Glass Cabinet Beauty Queen” I thought that, wow, [the line] “Ten, a hundred, a thousand until the prime minister” [using the services of a prostitute] would get this song banned for sure. But it didn’t happen. They went and banned หำเทียม “Ham Tiam” (Dildo)! So I thought, that was lucky!***
At minute 8:50: [Visual excerpt from music video for “Glass Cabinet Beauty Queen”]
Add: Thailand is a country of lies. There are so many people gambling, but it seems there are no casinos. And Thailand is a country famous for having lots and lots of brothels, but there has never been a single person in Thai government who wants to say “let’s make them legal.” Until Move Forward wants to make them legal. I agree 100 percent. Make it so they are legal, no matter whether they are casinos or brothels. Make them legal and keep the taxes for the state. They’re all adults now!
Can Add repeat the magic of Made in Thailand?
Add: I think that I am [like] one bottle of liquor. One brand new bottle of liquor. You open it up and have abilities equal to the kick of the liquor in the bottle. But as you use it up, you won’t have it. The albums to come therefore won’t have it. There won’t be any further albums that will gleam like Made in Thailand because now I’m like this good bottle of liquor here that we’ve opened and drunk together. And after that, there’s no more. Because I’ve used all my strength in wanting to do this album, all of it has gone into it. After that, there’s no more. Because the source that I have in myself, it’s like the liquor that’s in that bottle. Now the liquor in that bottle had been totally used up. Unless we go find a new bottle.
[Header says: Times change after Made in Thailand]
Temporary Breakup of the Band’s Big Three and Reunion
Add: I can’t really remember, but I know that that day, we all wanted to do something following our own hearts. So Lek went his own way. Ree [Thierry] also went his own way. I went my own way. We each went to do our own thing. And in the end we knew that, if we join together, we are great. If we separate, it guarantees we are finished.
Lek: I’ll tell you this: The incidents back then, makes it so we have today. I’m thinking right. I believe I’m thinking correctly. P’Add thinks correctly that every person left because of every person. Me and P’Add here stand together with regard to work. We always argue about work; we have never argued about money. Because being in our youth, we were hot-blooded. How can we know who was right and who was wrong? Can [anyone] figure it out? Our work, I believe is ours. That’s the best way to think about it. As soon as we’ve matured, our egos are so big, both of us, all of us, that we go off and so some special solo work. Not long after we were on our own, we came back together and have worked together ever since. And it’s been smooth ever since. And we never argue anymore about work … We don’t have this in the band Carabao….
[Three of them playing Mai Pai]
Origin of the term “Songs for Life”; Add’s involvement with communism
Add: The words, “song for life” arose and are particular to Thailand. Because before that, there was the band Caravan. And there was a writer, and one of his books was called “Artists for Life, for the People,” and that writer was Jit Phumisak. Because of that, once the band Caravan came about, one writer wrote [the words] “songs for life.” But that came from this book here: “Artists for Life, for the People.” And so it gave birth to the words “songs for life.” I went and searched this world. Is there “song for life” or “protest song”? No, there’s nothing. There is no person who named them that.
Add’s relation to the October 14 (1973) and October 6 (1976) events and communism
Add: Maybe I wasn’t an October person; maybe I wasn’t a real October person, but I worked for the communists for 6 years without these guys knowing it [points to Lek and Thierry].****
Lek: Me, I was a professional musician. Like a true musician. When I came to know P’Add, it was like I knew a communist. Also, it was P’Add, who introduced us to the band Caravan, to know things like this. You have to understand that in the life of a professional musician like me, you have to drink soda pop. But the communists in past times, they didn’t even drink soda pop. Think about it. And it surprised me. Because just a moment before [Add told me that], I’d drunk some.
Add: And you also couldn’t wear high heals.
Lek: And I’d just drunk some and I was like, “Whaaa ???” And he said, “So this guy drinks soda pop!?” [Lek clutches his throat.] And I’d just drunk some. Something like this. So I guess it’s going to be like this? Back then, P’Add’s life was intense. He led us to meet the communists. I was confused like, “Whao! What’s this?
Add: [We] couldn’t even look at women.
Lek: Uh . . Look! He told me “Lek, as soon as you grow up to be an adult why do you only look at woman in this way?” [I?] said, “’How come the adults look?’ Why do children look at girls?
Theirry: Would you have us look at men?
Lek: The way that P’Thierry looks at men is OK.
Add: I was kind of strict with the band, with the band members in that era. In the era of Made in Thailand, I’d check names. At 10 o’clock, no one has arrived. There is a board to check names.
Are the Songs for Life supposed to fight injustice?
Person off camera: P’Add, you have written in a book/magazine that Song for Life are things that fight injustice. Do you still look at the songs for life from this perspective?
Add: As for myself, throughout my life, I’ve written songs like that. For my whole life. I’m unable to write any other type of song. Actually there are some songs that are only about love, which I’ve written for Thierry to sing.
Lek: It’s that I look at the world like, in reality, us humans, you must admit you have a dream. Every person needs to eat and live happily and comfortably. About this, humans must … we must not first lie to ourselves. I hear people talk so much about ideals/ideology, but I ask you honestly, if you can’t provide for yourself, how are you going to help anyone in society? You will let your kids and wife have nothing to eat and you will help society? I don’t believe it. As for that, we must save ourselves first. We have to clean our own houses first. Then we can extend the cleanliness to the surrounding next to the house. If we have something to eat, if we have strength, we are able to make it so the world is nice to live in, to the extent that we have energy. I don’t believe that one person alone can change anything very much.
Where Add gets his ideas for songs
Thierry: Have happiness. And I got an idea also. P’Lek has your own melody. P’Add has a melody. I have a melody of my own. That’s like how I say, “Three buffalos.” P’Add has tons of stories in his head, which wherever he goes, he brings a notebook to jot them down. [pantomimes his writing in a notebook] Something like that. Bring anything to him, instantly it just comes. In a minute, it comes. The lyrics have already come [to him].
Lek: He reads so much, P’Add does.
[Heading says: Arriving at 40 years of Carabao]
Promoting the 40 Years, 40 Songs concert
Add: 40 years, 40 songs played till sick [of them] for you [honored you]. The words “played till sick of them,” mean that all of us have played together until we are bored. We play those songs until we are sick of them in order that we can play them for you [honored you]. Not that we play them so that YOU are sick of them. Those are two different things [laughs]. Decode that correctly. [We]’ll hear the songs that are familiar; doing it this way is better. But if we play the songs that aren’t familiar, like in previous eras, when we arranged a concert, other people are going to be like “you need to play that song and this song.” And they’re not familiar and we will be able to endure playing. Some of the playing will be wrong and some right. Because it’s not familiar. But for this time, 40 songs will all be familiar.
Lek: This will be special, which we have never done. We’ve never done it.
Add: We’ve never done it. For the most part, there are people who come force us: do it like this! Do it like that! But this time we do it in a friendly informal way.
Thierry: This time must be more special than all the other times because we will play following our hearts [or as we like]. Yes, let’s use these words.
Add: P’Thierry has [something] special. He will have คลื่น waves/rhythm. [Add and Thierry start making wave motions together]
Thierry: Right now I have many postures. I’m a dancer.
Add: Marine department [I think it’s a pun].
Thierry: I’m a clown for anything like this. I want everyone to be happy.
Thierry: I got to this age, where if I want to do something, I do it.
Add: You’re close to death at this point.
[Header: Remembered Concerts]
Fighting at Carabao concerts
Add: That, it seems like it was a set up. It’s a Pluak Daeng garbage disposal pit, and it appears there are people saying, I oppose the creation of the garbage disposal pit at Pluak Daeng, which I didn’t know anything about. On that day, I remember that many Thairath reporters got up all over on stage. On on that day my pictures was on page 1 [of the newspaper]. [I] jumped down and kicked [them]. Do you know why? After the first song that they got up on stage, I’m playing, they come, [he mouths a word that they whispered at him]. And they are sitting along the fence. [He mouths the word again.] It was a set-up! They set me up! Because the movement of the reporters was really strange. As soon as the third BLEEPED EXPLITIVE, I jumped off the stage and kicked him in the neck.
Add: There was one time someone threw a bottle onto the stage. He threw it towards the stage but didn’t quite make it. It hit against the stage. Bang! It smashed. Bang! This was at Surat Thani. I jumped down. Expletive, this expletive guy was huge. But, anyhow, I had already jumped down and put [it] on first.
Lek: Being on the stage [you] miscalculated, huh?
Add: As soon as I jumped down, woah! Expletive huge. So big.
Person off camera: P’Add, do you ever think about why the song Bua Loy would have fights [between gangs breaking out during it]? Why Bua Loy [particularly]?
Add: With the beat of Bua Loy, it’s very มัน (pleasing/enjoyable). The beat of Bua Loy is มัน. While [in] the lyrics of Bua Loy, he’s a fighter. So I don’t know. Maybe they will punch and hit each other, I guess. I really don’t know. You have to go ask them.
*”Young Man from Suphan” is a humorous Carabao song about a young man from Suphan coming into the big city. It is used here because Add himself was a young man from Suphan who came into the big city, Bangkok.
**Probably Laos, where young Thierry Mekwattana was an actor in a TV show, or Switzerland [Thierry is half Swiss]. The meeting of Add and Lek, and Thierry’s show in Loas is illustrated in the music video for the 4oth Anniversary song: 40 ปี ฅนคาราบาว See Sip Bpee Kon Carabao (40 Years of Carabao People) [Ye Olde Carabao Band: 40 Years]
***By “two people together,” maybe he means Add wrote that song and Thierry only sang it. And it was lucky from Thierry’s point of view that “Ham Tiam” was banned and not “Nang Ngam Dtu Grajok” because Add sings “Ham Tiam” and Thierry sings “Nang Ngam Dtu Grajok,” so the song Thierry famously sings wasn’t banned.
****To learn about the concept of an “October Person” see the Carabao song “Tears of the October Friends” and my introduction. To learn more about young Add’s involvement with communism (he wasn’t yet Add Carabao, which is a stage name), see “Che 2018” and the introduction. Some math: If Add’s 6 years helping the communists began around October 14, 1973 (including mass protests around Democracy Monument that Add says he attended as a young person who didn’t really understand what was going on) and lasted till the government amnesty for communists in 1980 (which Add has expressed his thanks for) that would be about be about 6 years, corresponding to ages 18 to 25, and he would have been 21 during the October 6 event (the massacre of protesting students at Thammasat University), which deeply affected him although I don’t he was directly there that day. The first Carabao album came out in 1981, one year after the amnesty.