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"“You ran away with my watch, you took my black briefs too.” “Having weed is better than having silver.” “Don’t be a loose woman.” These aren’t the lyrics of an American bluesman, but are translated from the lyrics of singer Dao Bandon (also spelled Daw Bandon and Dae Bandon; Thai: ดาว บ้านดอน).

Born Tiam Saksirif, his stage name translates to “Star born on a high mountain village.” That mountain village meant a childhood of poverty. Bandon grew up listening to Thai AM radio, and when he left home to join a Buddhist monastery at 12, his love of singing suited him for Buddhist chants. When he turned 18, he left religious life with dreams of becoming a pop star. The singer’s voice isn’t conventionally pretty, but his expressiveness gives his music a searching, mournful tone. But it’s not all lamentation. Selected songs are in a particular subgenre of Thai popular music called isan, from the country’s region. The particular cadences of the region’s language, and Bandon’s natural expressiveness, helps give his music its distinct emotional quality.

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