Soulful songbird spreads her wings and gets ready to take-off
Born in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchatani province, Rasmee Wayrana has been ruffling feathers within the Thai musical community since the age of five. And now, with the release of her second album—Rasmee Isan Soul Arom (“arom” translates as “emotion”)—she’s set to soar to the very top of the Thai musical tree with her often unique and always captivating hybrid musical style that she’s dubbed ‘Isan Soul’; a blend of jazz and pop with more traditional Isan and Thai instruments and stylings.
She was born into a musical family—her father was a MorLam Jariang singer—and so, like a songbird in its nest, she’s been surrounded by music (and encouraged by her father) since she was a hatchling. Morlam itself is a traditional Laos and Isan term meaning either expert song or singer, while Jariang is a style of Khmer folk singing. In the end it’s no small surprise that Rasmee has grown to create her own fusion sound utilizing these musical stylings, as it’s clearly built into her DNA.
She released her debut album Isan Soul in 2016, scooping awards for Best Female Singer, Best Album, and Best Song—for the language transcending timeless beauty “Maya”—at Thailand’s Kom Chad Luek awards. She’s also toured abroad, receiving rave reviews and drawing comparisons with such singing legends as Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.
Although she now resides in Chiang Mai, the release of her new album means it’s time once again to spread her wings and take her cardinal talent to her ever-growing legion of fans. I recently spoke to her about the new album—its incubation, gestation, and hatching—along with her plans for the future.
How many months did the new album take to record?
The recording itself didn’t take too long—roughly a week—but the preparation took almost a year. It was recorded in Bangkok at Dynamic Studio and Studio 28, with Satukan Thyatira (my guitar player), and a full band that includes members old and new. Studio 28 sponsored the record so I would like to thank them for their great support.
Tell us about your songwriting process and inspirations.
Normally I write songs when inspiration comes, which can be anytime. Mostly, I like to capture my feelings at the moment I write the songs, so in the end the result is quite unpredictable. On this new album in some of the songs, like “Little Girls”, I use my own experience to denounce the difficulties that Isan children who live in remote areas go through in order to get a proper education. In “Free Beauty” I criticize the standardized idea of beauty that exists in this country, where people feel the need to take pills to become skinnier or whiter regardless of the health risks. Other songs are a reflection of my mood in a particular situation, like “Emotion”, “The Beauty of Loneliness”, or “Captured by the Nib of a Pen”.
How would you say your style has evolved, both lyrically and musically, since your first record?
The lyrics still talk about Thai life, my feelings and personal experiences. Musically, we have incorporated more instruments and influences, from Morlam and Luk Thung to African music, Blues, Rock, and Pop.
Considering your now sizeable non-Thai fanbase, do you have plans to write some songs in English and perhaps tour overseas again?
Absolutely. We are always looking for interesting events abroad where my music could fit, and one of my future goals is definitely to write some music in English.
How do you feel about being compared to legends like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday?
It’s a huge honour for me because I love them both, and they have been big influences for me. Anyway, I do not take it too seriously, I just try to do my work the best way I can.
What are some of your future plans?
I will take a short break in April, as we have quite a few concerts confirmed for the following months. I am also already working on a small side project with a traditional Isan musician, so I hope we can release some Morlam songs in the future.
For details of Rasmee’s upcoming concerts, including a possible Bangkok CD release party, or to purchase her music directly, visit Rasmee online:
By Gary Anthony Rutland