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Isan Live Music – Option 2

This is the second of three posts I will be publishing on this subject. Today you will join us for a stage based band, being the second option for live music in Isan. In this case this entertainment was provided as the culmination of a funeral, so not the event you might have had in mind.

Gaun and I were having morning coffee in the garden when we heard a chainsaw start up. Shortly after it stopped and there was the sound of lots of voices crying out. It turns out that a neighbour and friend of the family was up a ladder cutting a dead tree when he slipped and fell onto the saw. A tragic accident.

The family are highly respected in the village and surrounds and because it was an accidental death the cremation happens very quickly, in contrast to a ‘normal’ death where the body can be held for a few days until family gather. The organisation for the wake started that day, with the first full day of people turning up to show respect and get food and drink the next. Isan people are super organised about any type of party. If you want one tomorrow for 100 people, I would more trust Isan people making it happen than any other group on earth!

The photos that follow are of the last day post-cremation, when my family went to officially make donations and pay respect. Most of my Isan family were involved in the preparations, cooking and serving tables because they are close to deceased’s family.

I will start by sharing a few insights to the morning and then we will move onto the music side of things. It is unusual to have entertainment of this size and cost at a funeral, or any other event, but the deceased had taken out accident insurance and his family own half the village anyway.

Yuan, me and a neighbour going to present these pillows, rice, flowers and money to the main ‘reception’ area at the family house. All donations are recorded in a book and then read out over loudspeakers during the course of the day.

Meeting the widow. Thais hide their emotions well.

As always the cooks are the heros at any of these events. All are volunteers and they work for several days starting very early in the morning until early evening.

Food to feed hundreds all done with very primative cooking arrangements. It is always achieved effortlessly, or looks athat way from an outsider’s point of view.

The washing up facilities on the left and charcoal cooking on the right.

Endless demand for sticky rice, the only rice eaten by most Isan people, kept these fire burning all day, steaming rice.

Beer and food arrives as soon as one arrives. Most of the food I can’t eat but I cope with the beer OK. Mind you this is at nine o’clock in the morning!

This is a mild soup and chicken pieces served up to help out the hungry farang.

Meanwhile out on the street a live band was setting up for the afternoon’s entertainment.

These bands follow a pretty standard format made up of the band, then usually four young girl dancers and a male and a female singer. I have seen heaps of these bands and how it comes together is that the live music guys (always guys) play without any interaction with the crowd. They are there to make sound and no more. The dancers vary from totally disinterested to fully engaged with the audience. Some dancers can actually dance while others just sway around in a totally uncoordinated way. The singers are usually pretty good. I haven’t heard a bad one. Sometimes they talk a lot, which is great for locals but as a non-Isan speaker I would prefer they do what they are paid to do. I will insist it be all music at my funeral or I would do if I was alive 🙂

The cost for an afternoon will vary of course but allow 20,000 – 25,000 baht all inclusive.

In this case the street was closed to traffic, but unlike Australia here the locals just cope. The village is in a grid pattern so if they see a blockage they just drive around it. Back ‘home’ you’d need council approval, which wouldn’t be given, but if…you’d need signs, traffic wardens, public liability insurance, lights for nighttime and so it goes

Monks getting involved too.

This makeshift shrine was set up in front of the stage so that the guy who had died could enjoy the show. I like the connection Isan people have to spirits, which brings them into this world in ways like this. Yuan, Gaun and a couple of friends here.

Of course Guan, Yuan and dancemates Bun and Jan were first to get going.

The female singer and two of the dancers. They look racy but actually dress in full flesh coloured body suits. This isn’t Pattaya or Patong and Isan is still pretty conservative in this sort of environment. Mind you they will play it up a bit to encourage tips!

This was actually a pretty good band. Both singers spent most of the time singing and the dancers made an effort and had obviously been practising becasue they had some coordinated moves. Those costumes are changed several times during the course of the gig.

Most of these events have security to keep an eye on things. In this case it was made up of a security firm, some locals and a whole bunch of police turned up later in the afternoon. 

If members of the audience like what’s happening or want to request a song money is passed up.

A costume change as you can see.

A chance unplanned shot that actually works. Two of the dancers getting money.

Whisky and soda for the singers and band.

Final costume change.

With school for the day over the local village kids turned up with teachers and were promptly fed and given drink. Two aspects that take absolute priority in such a natural way in Isan. If you sit down anywhere and wait someone will come along and offer you food and drink!

I am not sure why Yuan is being moved along by Gaun and Bun. Yuan is a quiet party goer. She puts the beer away and dances the day away. Lud doesn’t tend to get as involved. He was looking after mama most of this afternoon.

Gaun is less quiet and in her element as you can tell.

The street scene as I left. Food stalls had set up and security was keeping an eye on things (until I left!) If you want to read Isan Live Music – Option 1 click HERE

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment because it gives me something to read in exchange.


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  1. Jim Busby

    Another insightful post of how the Isan people deal with the death of someone. I find it ironic that in Western society we are to mourn the loss of someone, even if that someone believed in a higher being and that someday they would ascend to those pearly gates in heaven. I think a great sendoff is much more significant than a quiet and somber ritual. I was sad when my father passed away, but being that he was a devout Christian, I couldn’t help but smile after he was gone. This is the way it should be when you pass away. Celebrate their life, not their death! Still, I am saddened for the widow who appears to keep a strong presence in all this. Food and drink, the essence of life in the time of death; except when you’re feeding the spirits. Funny, but it looks like the male members gave the female members in the band money, while the female members gave the male singer the money. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.



    • Tony in Thailand

      I do agree that the Thais have a more realistic (?) attitude to death and that flows into how funerals are conducted. Peng had two of her schoolmates die as the result of a motorbike accident (so many deaths on bikes here). Gaun’s attitude was to look at the positive in that they were now at peace and missing out on all the problems life throws up! That sound callus by our standards (although we do acknowledge the relief that death provides from illness) but strip away our obsession with the state of life it does make a sort of sense at time of death. The death bit can’t be changed and let’s face it, such a lot of life can be a REAL pain in the……so why not recognise that in some ways this is a benefit. Peace over constant struggle.

      I have told Gaun that I expect a decent send off when I die. I do hope that coming back as a spirit is a reality even if just for that event. I will be dancing with Gaun in front of that stage and having a terrific time. I do wonder whether at the two times a year the spirits are fed, Gaun will provide me a hamburger with the lot rather than fried grasshoppers! I will have to tell her.



  2. Mel Yates

    Thanks Tony. All of your blogs provide me with more and more useful information on life in Thailand. Jai actually thanks me for taking such an interest and learning/understanding about their way of life. Naturally I tell her it is you who provides the info and sometimes it gives cause for me to do some extra research.

    Just about 10 days ago her boss’s grandmother died of natural causes (93) and so that got me to read into Buddhist funerals. This blog has further enlightened me. We farangs have so much to learn and it is very important we do so if we are to assimilate into Thai life.

    Great stuff. Thanks again.

    • Tony in Thailand

      Thanks for the comment Mel. Like you I keep an open mind and pick up new insights all the time. It’s what make living here so fascinating. If I wasn’t interested in discovering more about my host country what would be the point? I could be sitting in a lounge room anywhere watching YouTube and sport.



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