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Date published: Wednesday, 28 August 2013 14:08
Date modified: Tuesday, 24 September 2013 16:47


Kantruem Folk Music

Kantruem Boran is a ‘way of life’, ‘the language of the spirits’ and gives performers and audiences alike pride as a shared cultural memory. Holding an important function in many aspects of living Kuntruem practices include rituals, rites of passage, as well as promoting social cohesion by diffusing tensions, offering relaxation, and a bridge to the spiritual world.

Kantruem Boran of the ethnic Khmer has ancient roots in the region. Songs which are performed to invite ancestral spirits to protect, heal and bless the living are slow and evocative, encouraging listeners to ‘tune in’. In contrast, other songs are a rowdy and joyful accompaniment to celebrations, such as weddings and house-raising ceremonies. Instruments of the genre include: the tone drums, the fiddle, cymbals, reed oboe and wooden clappers.

Over the past thirty years, Kantruem has gone through significant transformations. Kantruem artists such as Darkie sought to appeal to younger, wider audiences by fusing from popular genres creating ‘Kantruem Prayuk’. Prayuk differs from Kantruem Boran in its rhythm, instrumentation and lyrics, which are sung in Thai and Lao in addition to Khmer. The blending of genres in Prayuk paved the way for inclusion of female ‘Carieng Bruen’ folk singers such as Nednang and Nam Phung, who come from families of Bruen singers. There is much overlap between Boran, Bruen, Prayuk and the staged performance forms. For instance, Na Pung is a nationally-recognized singer in both Boran and Prayuk. Yay Pot, Nednang’s mother is a Bruen singer who has been influenced by developments in Kantruem.

Kantruem also is expressed on stages locally and nationally as a form that serves to represent Khmer-Surin identity and heritage. Stage performances of Boran and Prayuk still maintain core ritual elements, such as the Wai Kru where ancestral teachers are called to give blessings. Schools also continue Kantruem as a heritage practice. The ‘Kantruem Club’ at Natang Tabaek elementary school, led by Khru Jantana, a singer and teacher plays a crucial role in connecting local Boran masters, to its students.

Local Kantruem Boran masters, such as Ta Manee and Ta Lon are integral to keeping the spiritual knowledge alive, as in Mah Mot (spirit mediumship ritual). “The spirits like to dance”(Ta Manee) to the many styles of Kantruem after formally being called through the playing of Boran.

There are some challenges to keeping Kantruem Boran a living, vital tradition. The masters are performing less due to age. A generation gap has contributed to the loss of cultural knowledge of the techniques, meanings and spiritual ‘way of life’ that these masters embody. In addition, the Khmer language, which is central to the practice and transmission of Boran, is diminishing in the Surin region. At a recent community forum, participants noted that if the language is lost, the ritual knowledge of Kantruem is negatively affected’.

The life of a Kantruem artist is challenging. A lifetime of dedication to crafting the skills, knowledge and abilities of Masters takes time and needs to be balanced against the demands of family and daily living often requiring income to be supplemented by other work. Professional artists and young people find it difficult to afford the instruments to sustain their practice.

Cultural resources offer significant social and economic benefit. Increased government support for individual artists at the local level across the cultural community in Surin is crucial to the furtherment and safeguarding of Boran. This may include incentives for apprentice artists as a career pathway and established artists.

Managing the cultural resources of Kantrum presents opportunities to foster transmission and invest in a sustainable future using the values of these cultural traditions. One possible opportunity with far reaching benefits is to establish a Kantruem Learning Centre, connecting Masters of the tradition, teachers, young people and the general public to classes, workshops, performances, learning about the history, language, ritualistic function.

The National Museum of Surin is another local resource which could be actively used to develop relationships and connect visitors to living masters of the tradition via demonstration, performances, archives and music ethonology, communicating the values and maintaining the significance of Kantruem in contemporary Surin.

Kantruem Boran, continues to play an important role in society , by valuing these practices the local identity is strengthen and adds significantly to the cultural resources essential for sustainable development.

‘…there is nothing else, this is who we are.

We need to maintain and preserve it.’

Khru Jantana.

Change and Continuity in Kantruem Boran, Khwaew Srinarin District

1. Chok Village

The Kantruem Boran musicians in this village are still getting together to play for themselves and for rituals throughout the region. The leader of the village ensemble is Ta Lon Ngamrahong. Now a master in the tradition, Ta Lon teaches occasionally and makes his own fiddles and tone drums. Other Kantruem performers in this village include: Mile Chingchai, Ta Ping Chingchai, Ta Muad Khawkhrua, Samian Ngamrahong and Vien Samakdiaw. The Chok Village musicians occasionally get together with musicians from Natang Village, such as for performances in Cambodia arranged by Mr. Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri.

Mr. Chaimongkol is passionate about raising awareness of the importance of the Kantruem Boran tradition, especially its links to the Khmer language. He believes that this music is a “way of life”; it is deeper than its musical notes in that it constitutes “cultural memory.” In addition to Khmer language revitalization, Mr. Chaimongkol has been active in supporting Kantruem Boran performances in the region and in neighboring Cambodia.

2. Natang Tabaek School

Natang Tabaek elementary school is one of the two schools in Kwaew Srinarin District where Kantreum Boran is transmitted to younger generations. Fifteen years ago, former principal, Sarot Jarusethino, developed folklorized Kantreum dance instruction at the Natang Tabaek School. Currently, the history of Kantreum Boran is taught through the curriculum, and the playing of the instruments and associated dances is taught through the “Kantreum club”, which performs around ten times a year at religious ceremonies and regional contests. The head teacher and organizer of the Kantruem club, Teacher Jantana, is instrumental in bringing local Kantruem masters such as Ta Manee (Ekapab Padphon) from Tabaek Yai village to teach young students.

A former boxer, Ta Manee taught himself the fiddle, which is his preferred instrument. Not only is Ta Manee proficient in many instruments common to the tradition, he also serves as a ritual specialist for Wai Kru ceremonies. Moreover, he is also the leader of a Prayuk ensemble called “Keltar”, or “Heritage” in Khmer, for which he has composed many songs, as well as those for other performers.

Natang Village was also the home of Darkie, a famous Kantruem performer who was one of the first to adapt modern instruments into the genre and develop Prayuk.

3. Srinarin Withaya School

Located in Khwaew Srinarin District, the Srinarin Withaya School is a secondary school which offers an extracurricular course in Kantruem folk music. The course is taught by Mr. Thanan Disom, one of the children of the late Pin Disom, a nationally recognized Kantruem musician. Students also have the opportunity to study folk dance and performance with Ms. Supranee Jarusethino as part of their elective coursework. The school periodically invites senior Kantruem masters such as Ta Muan Hongkhwang from Khwaew Village to provide further training for students in the musical techniques as well as ritual aspects of Kantruem Boran. Through their support for training and stage performances, the school is ensuring the transmission of local Kantruem heritage to a new generation of youth. Even so, there are still challenges to the future of Kantruem Boran. Mr. Thanan and Mr. Kantanat acknowledged that youth today prefer the contemporary sounds and rhythms of Kantruem Prayuk, as Kantruem Boran was associated with older generations.

4. Grandmother Suphot

86 years old, Yai Suphot Misati learned the tradition of Bruen singing from her mother and uncle, who was also a fiddle player. She also learned the sacred Khmer poems that are integral to this tradition from past master Ban. Bruen can be understood as a call and response type of singing, usually performed in duet and very flirtatious in nature. In recent years, it has become common for female Bruen singers to perform with Prayuk ensembles, as in the case of her daughter Ned Nang. Ned Nang is a popular Prayuk singer, who has recorded five albums and worked with Ta Manee for her first album, “Maemod Keltar”, or “Spirit Mediumship Heritage”.