Kwanjit Sriprajan [ LP : Suphanburi Soul : Kwanjit Sriprajan – The First Lady Of Lae Music ]
Kwanjit Sriprachan was born on 3rd August 1947 to a farming family in Suphanburi, a region in central Thailand. Whilst not exactly from a musical family, her uncle, Sawai Wongngam, was a popular local singer, often performing for community events. When she was around ten years old, someone approached her uncle looking for singers to train up in the ‘plang puen baan’ tradition, which includes the ‘lae’ genre (a traditional vocal form principally sung at monk initiation ceremonies) for which she would later become famous. She was just outside of the age range, so her younger sister, Kwanjai, was picked instead. In addition, her father, who had also occasionally performed as a singer, was firmly against Kwanjit pursuing a career in music.
Kwanjit was undeterred however, and despite the music school being over 10km away, she would frequently volunteer to pick her sister up, giving her an excuse to observe singing techniques, and hang out with the musicians and teachers. The staff soon noticed her interest and dedication, and started sharing tips. Additionally, she learned to become a hairdresser, and she often got work helping singers and musicians prepare for their performances.
Sometime later in 1966, she heard of a competition on the ‘Yan Kro’ radio station taking place in Bangkok, which boasted a cash prize or music contract with a local band. Again, her dad refused her to enter. However, it transpired that around the same time one of her cousins was due to become a monk, and all the family were travelling down to Bangkok to attend the ceremony. Her uncle was naturally sympathetic to her ambitions and secretly took her to the radio station to take part in the competition.
Like a scene from a Hollywood film she won and was offered the chance to join a luk thung band straight away, lead by a gentleman named Chamrat Suvakon, which in turn brought her to the attention of a famous producer within the luk thung industry, Jiew Pijit, after he heard her on the radio. Pijit was producer for the celebrated singer Waipod Petchsuphan, and she ended up guesting on a couple of his LPs.
As well as Pijit she worked with another key producer from this era, Porn Pirom. They had initially met in 1964, and recognising her talent and unique vocal delivery, he arranged a series of recordings for her to perform on. He assembled a band of different players from military and police groups, who created an uneven mix of traditional arrangements coupled with elements of R&B and latin percussion. Such flourishes were not so surprising for luk thung, but less common for lae, which tended to be played on Thai percussion and wind instruments.
These sessions eventually came out on the ‘Sin Haa’ LP, which focussed on the five laws of Buddhism, as well as four different EPs. Whilst the albums and EPs weren’t big hits commercially, they were hugely popular with the religious community, and often played at temple ceremonies and fairs which spread her notoriety as a performer and artist. The focus of lae is on the teachings of the Buddha and traditional values to exhort the listener to a righteous life.
Whilst she had sung on Waipod’s records she hadn’t actually met him as yet. After her work with Suvakon’s band came to an end in 1968, he suggested that she go to see him, which lead to her being offered a job in Waipod’s band. When his MC Saichol Rattanasin fell ill, she took over his role and ultimately Waipod helped her set up her own group and record label to self-release her music. She put out an album, ‘Gub Kao Petchakad’ and a handful of singles.
In 1973 she became pregnant, and decided to quit full time performing and touring, returning to Suphanburi. She continued to perform lae & choi, often hired by local families to come up with lyrics specific to an individual ceremony, and as the cassette superseded vinyl as the most popular audio format, she started to produce her own music and encourage younger musicians in her community, something she still does to this day. For most of her career she had been dependent on men but this new found freedom gave her a further platform as an entrepreneur, and she now runs a centre from her house for anyone who wishes to come and learn about the music and culture for themselves.
In 2014 we had the huge pleasure of welcoming Kwanjit and her full band to play at one of our Paradise Bangkok Anniversary parties, where she performed some of the tracks she had recorded back with Porn Pirom for the first time since those initial sessions. It therefore feels fitting to present this collection of some of her most crucial cuts – we hope you enjoy.
Chris Menist, based on an interview with Kwanjit Sriprajan by Nattapon Siangsukon aka Maft Sai 2018