Last month, violinist Kyle Dillingham returned to Thailand to guest star for a second time in the theatrical musical, “Phra Lor”. The musical was adapted from a popular early Thai poem called Lilit Phra Lor, by celebrated Thai Director and Actress, Patravadi Mejudhon. Dillingham and Mejudhon first met in 2008 when the former was on a tour in Thailand, which was sponsored by the US Embassy in Bangkok. As the Musical Ambassador in Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma, Dillingham has embarked on many similar tours in countries across the Indo-Pacific. He has performed for the King of Malaysia, the Princess of Thailand, Beijing Central Conservatory, and government leaders and ambassadors in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.
“Many people say that music is the international language,” Dillingham told the East-West Center in Washington. “If you happen to really believe that, as I do, then you would realize how profoundly important it is to use music in any situation where communication is key because you would also believe that it would be the most effective way to connect with anybody in the world regardless of language, culture or heritage.”
As Dillingham explains, “there is some form of the bowed stringed instrument in just about any culture in the world,” which makes the fiddle “an excellent and extremely effective tool for diplomacy.” Dillingham and Mejudhon worked with several foundations to make the performances accessible to impoverished children and children with disabilities, which, Dillingham said, resulted in many of them being inspired to learn the violin.
Dillingham and Mejudhon’s collaboration is just one example of the growing musical ties between the West South Central United States and Thailand. Texas band Khruangbin, which translates to ‘airplane’ in Thai has recently found commercial success in the United States. The band was heavily influenced by obscure Thai funk from the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, three Thai artists are slated to perform at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas: Yellow Fang, DCNXTR, and Chanudom. Each artist sings in both their native Thai as well as in English. Between Oklahoma and Texas, there are now 23,000 Thai residents, and the two states’ exports to Thailand surpassed $207 million in 2017. These economic ties highlight the important relationship between the two regions, and musical collaboration plays a key role in the partnership.
Caleb Darger is a Research and Communications Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated from Brigham Young University where he studied history, Asian Studies, and Chinese.