Mor lam: Lao traditional music

I love listening to all types of Lao music, including the more traditional mor lam which means expert singer or expert song.  According to Google mor lam , “Typically features a theme of unrequited love, mor lamalso reflects the difficulties of life in rural Isan and Laos, leavened with wry humour. In its heartland performances are an essential part of festivals and ceremonies”.  The more traditional mor lam is accompanied by a khene.


One interesting type of mor lam is mor lam glawn (หมอลำกลอน) which is a vocal battle between the sexes and it has two main parts.  According to Swisspedia,  the two main parts are:

 * lam tang san (ลำทางสั้น) — (“short form”) took up the bulk of the time, with the singers delivering glawn poems a few minutes in length, performing alternately for about half an hour each from evening until about an hour before dawn. They would pretend gradually to fall in love, sometimes with rather explicit sexual banter.

* lam tang yao (ลำทางยาว) — (“long form”), a representation of the lovers’ parting performed slowly and in a speech rhythm for about a quarter of an hour.

If you really think about it, this back an forth takes an accomplished musician to master breath control because the mor lam has a very specific rhythm and flow.  Also, the person who plays the khene must also have breath control to be able to continuously play for hours. I wonder if these musician have a six pack because of this?  Just a  wild thought!

 Another type or version of the lam glam is the lam jot.  According to Swisspedia, “lam jotgae or lam jot (ลำโจทย์แก้ or ลำโจทย์) is a variant of lam glawnformerly popular in the Khon Kaen area, in which the singers (often both male) asked one another questions on general knowledge topics — religion, geography, history etc. — trying to catch out their opponent”. I find this vocal battle between the sexes interesting because it reminds me of the MC battles in the hip/hop world where one rapper verbally “attacks” the other MC to make him/her look bad.  The objective of the MC battle is very similar to the mor lam because both “singer” is trying to outdo the other and in a way make the other musician look unskilled. If you really want to see a good example of an MC battle just watch the movie 8 miles starring  Eminem. 

Now that am more educated about mor lam, I can actually say it is one of the oldest form of Lao  “rap”. Also, now that I know more about the different types of mor lam, I can see why my parents and their friends were laughing and snickering when they were listening and singing it. I’m almost positive now that their lam contain some “adult” issues.  I guess I was too naive back then to understand!

The next time I go home, I am going to ask my mom’s friend if she can lam for me.  She was pretty good singing mor lam especially when she was drunk.  I have to give her some credits now looking back at all those gatherings at my parents.

Overall, mor lam singers are prolific story tellers who are able to entertain us for hours!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. vilat says:

    very well captured. so much is “hidden” behind the simplicity of lam. so much is submerged beneath the performer’s words and the sound of the khene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s