An Exciting Relationship Between Thailand and Japan That Tells Present—“Represent Asia”
There might have never been a time in the past in which a wide array of Asian music, including both the new and old age music, are widely listened to like at this moment. No, there must have been an Asia Boom that happened somewhere. However, the current boom isn’t just any temporary one. It’s not a difficult task to observe that it’s the basic foundation of “Representing Asia” and the sense of unity that has helped to widen the mind of many audiences in Japan, helping them to accept music from overseas as they are instead of something special. Moreover, in this modern age, many musicians from Japan can lightheartedly hold their own tours in other countries, from East Asia to Southeast Asia. Likewise, Japan has also become more open, allowing other artists from overseas to come, perform, and naturally exhibit their wide range of music…. It seems that the day when a warm-up explanation like this becomes unnecessary isn’t that far in the future. It can be said that Thailand’s world of music carries with it an extraordinary charm. In this article, we are going to meet and get to know Juu, one of the most vital key figures in Thailand’s world of Hip-Hop music. Even though the artist has never released any physical recordings, all of his music videos that have been released on YouTube carry with them a unique musical sense. The rapping parts of the songs, in particular, are extraordinary and unusual even when compared to other artists from Thailand and other parts of the world. Juu is heavily influenced by Thailand’s traditional popular music, including the Luk Thung, in addition to contemporary music genres such as Hip-hop and Reggae, and the impacts from anime and video games. Wielding a force strong enough to captivate the audiences’ hearts unwittingly in his hands, Juu combined English, Thai, Japanese, and Koshu dialect with his unique sense of time and flexibility to create intense and inspiring tracks. Together with G. Jee, his disciple, Juu has released a new piece of artwork, the “New Luk Thung.” No, it’s not completely accurate to say that G. Jee is Juu’s only “partner” in this endeavor. Aside from his disciples, many other Japanese rappers and hip-hop artists also participated in the production of the title. One cannot, in particular, forget the name Young-G from stillichimiya/OMK, who have participated in the title’s production for two years. Most of the tracks in the title are produced by Young-G while Juu and G. Jee fused many different languages to create captivating rapping lyrics. It’s safe to say that “New Luk Thung” is not only Juu’s first physical recording but, with the participation of many other artists including stillichimiya’s members and Chinza DOPENESS in addition to the staffs at EM Records—the recording label under which the album is released, also a collaboration artwork produced by all of the artists in Japan. Cheesily speaking, the album is a present brought through the participated members’ friendship, which has already surpassed the borders between nations. TURN has spent over two weeks to fully crack this new album’s charms. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at Juu through an interview with him. This article is, undoubtedly, the gateway to help readers to get to know better about the artist’s background, musical experiences, the pride and determination of the artists who are living in Thailand, and of course, the artists’ trust in Young-G and many other artists in Japan. (Interviewed and Reported by Shino Okamura)
Interview with Juu
——I heard that Juu grew up in the old town of Bangkok. Could you tell us in detail about the environment during your childhood?
Juu (J): I was born in the 1980s in the Khlong Chan area of the Bang Kapi district. After moving twice or thrice, our family finally made it to Pattaya City. After living in the city for a year, we moved again to our grandfather’s house in Thon Buri. We live in the area of Saphan Phut which is close to the vicinity of Wongwian Yai (※Even though Juu moved to Khon Kaen a few years ago, his family still remains in Saphan Phut until this day). I was still a fourth or fifth grader before we moved to this neighborhood. Here, I went to the Pattana elementary school (※ The word “Pattana” literally means “Development” or “Revolution” in Thai and is an important word that is widely used by the music producers in Thailand).
Rap music was becoming a trend at the time. That was also the same time during which I became interested in music. I believe Rock was the most popular genre at the time. My father, a musician who’s also a heavy fan of Rock music, bought me a guitar and helped me to practice. I used the Rock songs which my father often played as models for practice. I think I’m mostly influenced by my father. My mother was a businesswoman who’s a good deal striker. She’s also very interested in art and entertainment and had a detailed understanding of Buddhism. I learned many things from both my father and mother. Both of my parents were very supportive and always stood by me in times of need. They always provided me with advice and necessary support for every new project that I undertook. When I was young, there were many Soi (※side-streets) in the vicinity where we were living. There were many small stores and markets. The area was lively as it was a collection of many different towns of the Thai people, the Islam people, Chinese people, and more. Many of my friends also lived in the area. We used to assemble our rock band, write some rap songs, or come up with our own dance moves. It was Rap and Rock which helped to lit the passion toward music in me, and it was also two genres that led me to seriously study, research, and experience many different genres in music.
――Could you tell me about how you met or approach the traditional music genres including the Luk Thung and Mor Lam, as well as contemporary music genres such as Hip-hop, Rock, R&B, …?
J: I love listening to many different genres of music. It’s not surprising to say that Thailand’s traditional music genres would become a part of your daily life if you are living in the country. There were many lucky occurrences that helped me to find good songs. There were many times in which I ran around asking people about the artists and the name of the songs which I found particularly captivating. There were also many great songs which I got to know through friends. In general, I usually intensively study and research into a song if I find it interesting. I always keep on searching to see if there are other artists out there who are pursuing the same style as I am. I’m also influenced by Western music. There was also a “Tower Records” in Thailand in the past. I remember spending countless time in the store hearing all of the wonderful songs that were on sale. Back when I was young, I often found myself dreaming of working there as the store, for me, was a true paradise. From my perspective, there are no differences between the music of old age and new age. Without the old age music, I would have never been able to approach closer to the new age songs. For me, the fusion of old age and new age music is a special existence. I found the freedom, unchained from the flow of time, particularly interesting.
――You’ve been using many languages in your rap, including Thai, English, the Khmer language, and Japanese. Did you learn these languages from your daily life? In addition, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of using multiple languages in rapping?
J：Before producing the new album “New Luk Thung,” I’ve been intensively studying the languages and the cultures of many countries in Asia. It was the unique characteristics of each language that captured my interest. In addition, I also thought it would be wonderful if I could freely express myself through these languages.
――Then, could you tell me how your current musical style come to form? It would be great if you can give us a glimpse into the process of forming your own unique style.
J：My music is formed through feelings. There are no general rules. Even though many songs are filled with meanings, there are also many others that do not contain many contents. However, all of them encompass real seriousness. Though so, it’s basic that all of the songs must enliven the audience’s mood. I believe the most vital part of the production process is to begin producing the songs. A good start will always bring about a good result naturally. My style isn’t completely formed yet. It will keep on evolving. I believe human’s thoughts and feelings are ever-changing. No one truly knows if one can keep on doing the same thing forever. I can feel that people will sway as time and the environment around them change.
――Audiences can only listen to your songs via video streaming websites. Except for financial issues, are there any other meanings, aims, or philosophical reasons as to why your works are only available on these sites?
J： I believe it was because I put heavy stress on the songs. I chose YouTube, the simplest method I could think of, as I want many audiences to listen to the songs I’ve written. Different from the modern time, in the past, it’s very difficult for a listener to gain access to a song. For me, videotapes, CDs, or vinyl records are just classic. Different from YouTube, the songs on these media formats still remain in certain forms. However, YouTube has become the latest musical tool for artists. I believe there will be many other wonderful tools that will make their way to the market in the future.
――Listening to your artwork, it seems that all of the songs have already surpassed the border of music as they vividly enliven the image of life in Thailand in the listener’s mind. However, all of the songs still maintain a high quality in terms of entertainment. Could you tell us which aspects do you focus on the most when performing or producing music?
J：Most of my songs contain messages. Even though most of them contain a certain seriousness, at the same time, the songs are also abstracted. Just like everyone else, I’ve experienced many good and bad things in life. That’s why I wish to convey all of the experiences I’ve been through to the audiences. However, despite wanting to include even the worst experience in the songs to make them a reminder for myself, despite wanting to write it so that the songs could provide useful experiences for the listeners, there are many experiences that I have to leave out during the production process. I have to exclude all of the experiences that no one would want to remember or those that could drag someone down emotionally. As for me, friendship has always remained my largest support.
――Most of my songs contain messages. Even though most of them contain a certain seriousness, at the same time, the songs are also abstracted. Just like everyone else, I’ve experienced many good and bad things in life. That’s why I wish to convey all of the experiences I’ve been through to the audiences. However, despite wanting to include even the worst experience in the songs to make them a reminder for myself, despite wanting to write it so that the songs could provide useful experiences for the listeners, there are many experiences that I have to leave out during the production process. I have to exclude all of the experiences that no one would want to remember or those that could drag someone down emotionally. As for me, friendship has always remained my largest support.
J： I’m influenced by many artists from both my country and overseas who have been working in various genres. However, I’m most influenced by Bob Marley who left a deep impact on my line of thinking. Bob’s line of thinking and power is hidden in the songs he wrote. Those songs are undoubtedly more than what they seem to be. After reading Stephen Davis’s “Bob Marley: Conquering Lion of Reggae,” I rode forward, looking to learn more about myself. As for my source of inspiration, I think they came from my wish to bring all of the different sounds to every listener from all over the world. If possible, I always write them so that my songs can help the listeners feel a sense of liberty. I’m very proud to have met everyone from OMK and Emura from EM Records. In addition, I’m also very proud to be able to individually update and bring Asia Sound to a larger audience.
――At the moment, there has been an increasing number of Japanese listeners who showed interest in Thai’s music. However, at the same time, there are also many other listeners who’ve been anticipating further development in Asian music, which also includes Thai music, as they started to feel the excitement hidden in the songs. From your perspective, what do you think is most captivating about the modern Thai music?
J：I believe there are many listeners who felt tired of the music on the major markets. That might have been the reason why there has been an increase in the number of listeners who are interested in Asia’s unique sounds. There has also been an increase in the number of artists who wish to present Asia. I think the current development is very interesting.
――So, is it safe to say that we will soon see a sense of unity arising from Asian music?
J：Of course, I think such a sense of unity will soon be here. I truly believe in the power of friendship and music.
――I found the traditions between the masters and their disciples in Thailand, a society famous for its respect toward the elders, very interesting. This time, if I remember correctly, G. Jee, who has also participated in the album, is your disciple. As the master, how did you approach the project? In addition, could you tell us how such traditions, spanning between different generations, impact the project in general?
J： I believe it’s a wonderful culture to have the young respect their elders. However, I believe people would be able to build better relationships if they could mutually understand why they should respect each other. If the elders could respect the young’s lines of thinking, and if the young could notice such consideration from the elders, then the true goals of these acts of respect will be achieved. Toward my friends, instead of the physical age, I’ve always found the mental age to be more important. At the moment, there are many rappers and street musicians living in Bangkok. I think there are many who have been intensely studying and researching into the genres. That number will increase even further in the future. That’s why I think people should pay more attention to this aspect. That’s what I’ve been doing until this point.
――Could you tell us the number of locations in Bangkok which could be used for live performance? In addition, does the government allow artists to perform in open spaces such as on the street or at the town’s center?
J：Most of the live performances are held at pubs, bars, or music festivals. As for open spaces, artists will have to receive approvals from the administration offices to hold live performances. However, as long as their performances do not cause any disturbance, artists can comfortably hold their own lives on the streets. However, artists should definitely give proper consideration to the neighborhood where they are performing. I hope that, in the future, there will be more small live houses available for artists who need a live venue.
――In the album this time, G. Jee participated in many songs as one of the two frontmen. However, there were many other Japanese artists who also participated in the production such as Chinzen DOPENESS or the members of stillichimiya. Could you tell us in detail about the album’s production process?
J：The album’s production began the moment Young-G started producing the album’s sounds (※basic tracks). The production process was really fun. I believe you could get more details about the process from Young-G (※An interview with Young-G will be available in the issue next week). After the first encounter with him, Young-G sent the album’s sounds to us. Both G. Jee and I have to listen to the sounds so many times to ensure that we’ve completely understood Young-G’s feelings before begin writing our lyrics. We had the demos sent back to Young-G after they are completed. Later, with an invitation to Japan for a show, we, accompanied by Young-G, stillichimiya, and Chinzen DOPENESS, went to a studio to record the vocal part. As one of their die-hard listeners, I truly like the songs these talented artists have written. That’s why I really feel honored for being able to work with them. After the recording, the album was finally completed with the help from Soi48, OMK, and Emura. I’m truly grateful for everyone’s help. To tell the truth, it was Shouta who I first met (※Shouta is the supporter of Kuzoku, OMK, and EM Records. He’s also known by the nickname “Kin-chan”). It was Shouta’s introduction which led to my first encounter with Young-G and other members. I believe it was in October 2017. It’s no exaggeration to say that I grew up while being heavily influenced by the Japanese culture found in the music, manga, television programs, cuisine, history, and many other aspects. That’s why I find it hard to try and find a particular charm of the Japanese rappers. If I have to say it, I would say that the Japanese artists are very detailed with their works and usually maintain a very high concentration during the production process, which, without a doubt, produce the most wonderful artworks as a result.
――Then, if you were to choose, would you say that you are creating a new type of music and expression which no one has ever tried, or would you say that you are inheriting and updating the traditional music?
J：To be frank, I’m not clear on whether there are others who are also doing the same kind of work I am doing at the moment. There may be many other artists out there. It’s just that we may not be working on the same period or perspective. However, I believe we all share the same wish to not have these sounds disappear from the musical world. There would be nothing that could make me happier than having other artists recognize the sounds in my work and update them. Lastly, I would like to say thank you to “Turn” who have helped to organize the interview today. I also wish that all of the partners and members of the project this time will be able to achieve great success on the road they have chosen.
Text By Shino Okamura