Far removed from Western country music — with its cowboy hat-wearing crooners singing about losing girlfriends, dogs and poker games — Thai country music, called “luk thung,” is usually characterized by warbling vocalizations, the wailing of an electric guitar and a whole chorus of unfamiliar instruments.
It’s a unique class of music that foreigners often don’t understand. But for 32-year-old Christy Gibson, luk thung music has truly become a part of her identity. Christy’s parents (her mom is Dutch, her dad British) came to Nakorn Ratchasima province to teach English and help out with a Christian charity group when she was six.
“Growing up here was terrific,” she recalls. “We had a great deal of opportunity to learn new things and gain some amazing life experience, particularly in upcountry Thailand where we were usually the only small white faces around.
“As we were young, we adapted very quickly to our surroundings, to the food, the climate, the language, and I felt at home right away.”
Interested in music as far back as she can remember, Christy was surrounded by the beats of Issan during the time her family lived in northeast Thailand.
“Luk thung music was playing everywhere I went — in restaurants, shops, marketplaces, blaring from pickup trucks, and from the portable radios carried around by the farmers as they worked in their rice fields, so it was very natural for me to pick up.”
She started singing in small community events, which soon led to bigger projects: she joined a musical group with fellow farang (foreigner) luk thung singer Jonas Anderson, trained with noted foreign and Thai vocal coaches, and soon found herself singing on stage and television and working on projects to promote Thai culture.
With her fluent Thai, strong voice, and exotic looks, fame snowballed from there.
Christy — known to her fans as Kitty — has also been trained in the vocally challenging and intricate music style called mor lam, a form of luk thung with lyrics that are often more Lao than Thai.
It’s an energetic style of music considered particularly difficult to master as it’s sung very fast with long stanzas, little repetition and complex vocal inflections. She also sings in English, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. But her heart belongs to luk thung.
“To me, luk thung music is very heartfelt,” says Christy. “It expresses real emotions. It talks about real-life situations and every day events. It’s extremely relatable. I love the fact that whenever I listen to it I feel like I’m back home in up-country Thailand, playing in a neighbour’s field, fishing in the pond, running around with friends on their parents’ farm … it’s a very nostalgic kind of music, and even the sad songs, to me, carry a good feeling about them.”
Christy just released her seventh album, “Yah Yahm Bai” (Never Give Up). Which means these days her life is filled with promotional tours, radio and TV appearances, music videos, meetings with producers and music executives, activities with fans, charity work and social projects, recording and studio work, press conferences and concert tours. It’s a hectic schedule, to say the least.
As for the future, she says she hopes to learn and collaborate with Thai artists and find new ways of making music and expressing herself.
“I hope to stay true to the cultural flavour and the purpose behind why I started doing this in the first place, because I want my music to be cultural, yet current, relatable and relevant to today.”