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Carabao - the Band

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Carabao are the most popular Thai band of all time. This is a fair achievement considering that their music was banned or ignored by the government radio and TV stations for most of the 1980s and early '90s. Even so, sitting on buses or walking around the streets you were, and still are, likely to hear the sounds of Carabao. Many of their songs are Thai classics.

Carabao are a Thai plaeng peua chiwit or 'songs for life' band. This kind of music came to prominence through the protest songs of the 1970s political upheaval in Thailand. Carabao have blended the acoustic/folk style of peua chiwit with other forms of Thai music and western rock music. In the process of this blending, they have earned such labels as 'ethnic rockers' and 'Kings of 3Cha'. Their songs often tackle social and political issues, demanding social justice and taking on the causes of the ordinary Thai people. They have also created love songs and many more philosophical songs that carry messages to people everywhere.

The band was formed by two Thai students, Yeunyong Ophakul (aka Add Carabao) and Kirati Promsaka Na Sakon Nakhon (Keo), who had studied and played together in the Philippines. The first album they released was Khi Mao in 1981.

The third album, Wanipok, brought the band into the national spotlight. The title song told the story of a blind street musician and became a major hit. Their most popular album was released in 1984. Called Made in Thailand, it sold more than three million copies. At the peak of their success, there were seven band members altogether, with Preecha Chanapai (Lek), Umnat Lukchana (Pao), Thierry Mekwattana, Thanit Sriklindee (Acharn) and Anuphong Pathompatama (Od). They have now released a total of 20 albums, with numerous live albums and compilations bringing the total to nearly 50.

Add Carabao is loved by many but his sharp tongue and open criticism of politicians, big business and environmental destruction perhaps make it surprising that he has lasted so long. At least one or two songs on most albums up to the mid-'90s were banned by the government and coverage of the band rarely appeared on government TV and radio stations. Eventually, pressures within the band led to some members going their own ways. Since then, Add has effectively kept the band going, still touring and playing at temple fairs, pubs and festivals. The original members have come together on several occasions including Carabao's 15th anniversary in 1996. Thierry and Lek have played on recent albums and been back on stage with the band, so things are looking good for the 20th anniversary in 2001.

This entry has been written by the author of the The Huakhwai Site and has been reproduced by kind permission here.

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