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Patriotism remixed

Thailand's national anthem receives a major tune-up with help from some of the Kingdom's top pop stars

The song we hear most often in our life is about get to a makeover. Not in content or melody, but the national anthem will become more modern and powerful.

For 85 years after the People's Party commissioned Phra Chenduriyang to compose the music weeks after the 1932 Siamese Revolution, the national anthem, or pleng chat, has come to serve as the collective identity of Thailand. Every day at 8am and 6pm, everything else is dropped as the anthem is played on all radio and television channels; the official version used in the broadcast was recorded in 1993, according to the Public Relations Department.

As Thailand prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Thai national flag on Sept 28, the government believes it's time to give the song a modern tone and look. Ormsin Chivapruck, a minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office, said last month that while the melody and verses would remain untouched, the national anthem would become more "powerful" and inspire "love of the nation". Young pop singers will sing the official broadcast version, and a new music video will be produced to accompany the television broadcast.

The task of rearranging the music has been entrusted to well-known musicians/songwriters: Wirat Yoothawon and Nitipong Honark as well as experts at Sala Chalermkrung Foundation.

"Initially, the government's plan was only to change the accompanying video to the national anthem that people often see on television," Wirat Yoothawon said, adding that the images have been used for so long. "But since they were going to alter the image, they also decided that they might as well also slightly update the song by adding a little more oomph to its sound."

Wirat, a respected composer who has been in the music scene for 40 years and composed over 200 songs, said his job was to add the voices of selected singers to the original track, without altering the melody or lyrics that has been used for eight decades.

The six singers picked for the re-recording are all household names to fans of Thai pop music. Leading the chorus will be Kittinan "Kit" Chinsamran (a booming baritone crooner who shot to fame from The Voice); Surachai "Ta" Wongbuakhao; Suveera "Q" Boonrod; Peerapat "Bee" Tenwong; Jirakorn "Ae" Sompitak and Nat Sakdatorn.

Besides Wirat, famed producer/songwriter Nitipong Honark has also helped with the arrangement and coaching of the singers.

The team has completed two new versions of the anthem. The first uses the original music and vocals with the added new vocals to spice up the song. The other features the original music with the new vocalists.

"I feel this new group of singers has done a very good job," Wirat said.

But since the six new singers are all male, Wirat, Nitipong and the authorities are currently scouting for female vocalists to take part in the project as well.

While the national anthem's melody has remained unchanged, the lyrics underwent a more adventurous journey. The first version was written in 1932 by Khun Vijitmatra, and two years later he wrote another version with Chan Khamwilai -- these two versions bore some resemblance to the lyrics we know today, and the tone was more visceral, with several mentions of the word "blood".

Students sing the national anthem and hoist the flag at every school in the country, every school day. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

In 1939, the government announced a national anthem lyrics contest, and over 600 versions were submitted. The winning entry was penned by Luang Saranupraphan, though the committee slightly altered the verses. The most interesting alteration, however, came from Field Marshall Plaek Pibulsonggram, strongman and member of the People's Party.

In the original submission, the lyrics read:

"Thailand is founded on blood and flesh / Democracy belongs to each of us …"

Field Marshall Plaek changed the second verse:

"Thailand is founded on blood and flesh / The civil state, every portion of land belongs to us …"

It remains the verse we sing today. The Thai word pracharat, or civil state, has now been adopted by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government as a banner for their campaign to help improve the people's well-being.

"I don't find overseeing this project too challenging," Wirat Yoothawon said. "There's no pressure mostly because no major changes are being made. My job is ensuring that the singers sing according to the melody of the original track.

"Years ago, we had a panel of judges who provided the guidelines regarding the key, the melody of the national anthem. These new singers have to record their vocal track note-for-note."

According to Wirat, the Thai anthem was composed in E-flat, a Western style. Phra Chenduriyang, the composer, wrote in his memoir that the song was influenced by the national anthem of Poland, Poland Is Not Yet Lost.

"The Thai anthem has some Western influences because it should have an international sound, as is the case with many other national anthems."

Now Wirat and the singers are still hard at work for the remixing of the anthem. The debut of the new version will coincide with Sept 28, National Flag Day.

Kaba Ma Kyei or Till The End Of The World, Burma is one of very few national anthems whose music is in a traditional style.

Nokor Reach, literally meaning City Of The King, is the Cambodian national anthem that celebrates the then-Cambodian monarch as it was also used as the royal anthem.

Although Singapore has four official languages, its national anthem, Majulah Singapura, is sung in Malay. According to the government, the anthem should be in Malay as it is "the indigenous language of the region, as English is not native to this part of the world".

Lupang Hinirang, or Chosen Land, is the national hymn of the Philippines. The original lyrics came from José Palma's Spanish poem Filipinas and only in the mid-19th century was the song translated to the Tagalog version.

In 2005, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra floated the idea of composing a new national anthem but the public opposed it.

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