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Carabao (Thai: คาราบาว) are a Thai rock band which is very popular in Thailand and other Asian countries. The group was formed in 1981 by university students Yuenyong Opakul (Aed) and Kirati Promsaka Na Sakon Nakhon (Keo or Khiao) who met while studying at Mapúa Institute of Technology in the Philippines. The word carabao is Tagalog meaning "buffalo", a symbol of fighting, hard work, and patience.
They are known for their Phleng phuea chiwit (เพลงเพื่อชีวิต) or 'songs for life'. This kind of music came to prominence through the protest songs of the 1970s political upheaval in Thailand, especially from the band Caravan. Carabao have blended the acoustic/folk style of 'peua chiwit' with other forms of Thai music, western rock and country music, and various kinds of world music like Latin music and reggae, earning such labels as 'ethnic rockers' and 'Kings of 3Cha' or 'Rolling Stones of Asia'. MTV Asia calls them "veteran".
Carabao's songs often tackle social and political issues, demanding social justice and taking on the causes of the ordinary Thai people, but they have also created love songs and more philosophical songs that carry messages for people everywhere. Aed Carabao is loved by many but his sharp tongue and open criticism of corrupt politicians, big business and environmental destruction perhaps make it surprising that he has lasted so long.[original research?] 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. Despite this, Carabao is the most popular Thai rock group of all time. Carabao has reached cult status long ago and is now one of the most successful legendary rock groups in the world. They are compared with U2.
Carabao has a long and complex history, with multiple lineups and several members who have left and rejoined the band numerous times. Leader/guitarist/vocalist Sia Aed is the only member who has participated in all their albums and tours, although most of their lineups have featured bassist Ot and guitarist Lek.
Carabao was originally formed in the Philippines with three members, Aed, Keo, and a third member, all of whom sang and played guitar. They stopped playing together when Aed returned to Thailand. However, Aed continued to play music and write songs, contributing a song to the popular songs for life band "Hammer," and playing as a backing member of the band "Hope." After the experience of playing with other bands, he decided that he wanted to revive Carabao so that he could have his own band. He persuaded Keo to return and switch to bass.
The early albums
Carabao released their first album, Lung Khii Maw (ลุงขี้เมา - "The Drunken Old Man"), in 1981, with Aed and Khiao backed by member of "Hope", as the fledging band lacked a drummer, lead guitarist or keyboardist. This album featured a simple, primitive folky sound, not drastically different from other Songs for Life bands from that era, although it did feature a noticeable rock influence, something that earlier Songs for Life bands like Caravan and Hammer had lacked. Some of the melodies were borrowed from Asian or Thai folk or rock songs, with the title track based on a Filipino folk melody. The album did not sell many copies, but Aed set about recruiting other members so that the band could effectively perform live.
A major breakthrough came with the recruitment of guitarist/vocalist Preecha Chanapai (Lek). Lek had a distinctive, powerful Santana-like style, and Aed has said that this gave him more confidence in the band. At the time, Lek was playing in a band called "The President Band", and on the band's 2nd album members of that band backed Aed, Lek and Keo, the latter who had by then switched back to guitar. The bass parts were played by President Band bassist Anupong Prathompatama (Ot), who has since gone on to be one of Carabao's longest running members.
Carabao first came into the national spotlight with their third album, Waniphok (วณิพก - "The Wandering Minstrel"), the title song of which told the story of a blind street musician and became a major hit. The song featured the distinctive "Samcha" rhythm, a kind of mix of Northeastern Thai folk rhythms like Mo Lam and Luk Thung with Latin beats. Future Carabao albums would feature many songs done in this style. Aed has noted with pride that before Waniphok was released, discos in Thailand played only Western songs, but the catchy indigenous rhythms of the song managed to break down those barriers.
By their 4th album, they had also added a permanent drummer, Amnaat Luukjan (Pao).
Carabao's most popular album, Made In Thailand (เมดอินไทยแลนด์), was released in 1984 and sold over four million copies. The title track became a hit in several neighboring countries as well. The album featured a remarkable variety of musical styles, mixing rock, folk, regional Thai styles like Luk Thung and Mo Lam, some reggae and Latin beats, and even some classical Thai music with the song "Refugee."
By this time, Carabao had added two more members: woodwind player Thanit Siiklindii (Ajaan) and guitarist/vocalist Thierry Mekwattana, while Keo's role changed again, becoming a backing vocalist and live multi-instrumentalist. The resulting lineup: Aed, Lek, Thierry, Keo, Ajaan, Ot and Pao, is now regarded by many of the band's fans as their "classic" lineup.
This lineup recorded several more hit albums in the 1980s, resulting in a powerful, eclectic and increasingly political body of work, with hit songs like "Welcome to Thailand," "Khon Jon Phuyingyai" "Mae Sai" and "Thaplang". The latter song was written about the theft of a holy Thai lintel, the Phra Narai, that later appeared in an American museum, and became the subject of Thai protests in order to regain the lintel. The song's chorus translates as "Take back Michael Jackson, give us back the Phra Narai!" During this period, Carabao consolidated their position as Thailand's most popular musical group of all time.
After the "Thaplang" album in 1988, the band began to disintegrate, as members left to start solo careers. First to go were Thierry, Ajan, and Pao, who briefly formed a spinoff band. After their 10th album, Ham Jot Khwai ("ห้ามจอดควาย") the band announced a breakup. However, soon Aed, Lek and Ot were back playing together with some new musicians, including Luechai Ngamsom (Duk) on keyboards and Chuchat Nuduang (Ko). Originally, this band was not called "Carabao," but Aed was persuaded to revive the Carabao name, and the band continued with the new lineup. With Keo (Khiao) gone, Aed was now the band's only original member. After their 12th album, Satja 10 Prakan, Carabao fans got another shock with the departure of Lek, who was replaced by Kajonsak Hutawatthana (Mee) on guitar. Although many of the band's fans were unhappy with the band's linup changes, this version of the band released 3 albums in the early-mid 90's, with a lower degree of commercial success than before, but still remaining one of Thailand's most dominant bands, and with hit singles like "Raeng Koi" and "Luang Phaw Khun" still getting major airplay on Thailand's radio stations.
In 1995, the "classic" lineup of the band decided to reunite to celebrate the band's 15th anniversary. They recorded a double album, Hak Huajai Yang Rak Khwai ("หากหัวใจยังรักควาย" - "If You Still Love Buffaloes"), which became the band's biggest hit in years, and re-established them as Thailand's biggest band. However, the reunion did not last, and the Aed-Ot-Duk-Mi-Ko lineup resumed activities, this time with some help in the studio from Khiao.
For their 18th album, Amerikan Anthaphaan, Lek and Thierry rejoined the band again, and a new lineup was born, combining 4 members of the "classic" band (Aed, Lek, Thierry and Ot) with 3 later members (Duk, Ko, Mee), along with a percussionalist/flutist/drummer named Thepajon Phanthuphongthai (Uan) and 2nd percussionalist/bassist named Sayaaphoon Singthoong (Nong).
Since then, the band has recorded several more albums, with another recent upsurge in critical and commercial success. They have now released a total of 25 official studio albums (Vol. 1 - Vol. 25 / 1981 - 2007), with some special albums, numerous live albums and compilations bringing the total to more than 60. The lineup has also remained stable, although percussionalist Nong has recently left the band. Additionally, Keo (Khiao) has not been an official member for years, but he still contributes vocals, guitar and production assistance to some of their albums. Former member Pao still occasionally appears in their live shows. The band's latest album "25 Pee Luk Lung Khii Mao" marks their 25th anniversary, and has been doing a series of anniversary concerts as well.
- Buy Carabao albums online (FREE Worldwide shipping)
- Official web site (in Thai only)
- Carabao group on Facebook (English and Thai)
- A Carabao Forum, since 2005
- Site about Thai rock bands, has a sound sample of Carabao's music
- Photos of Carabao live in Stockholm, 31 May 2007
- Carabao Fan Club Switzerland