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Reviving an ancient (and loud) Thai artform

Students in the sabadchai class at Patravadi Theatre pound their drums so hard that you might think they're angry. You're reminded, as the torrid pounding persists, that drum rolls sometimes heralded wars in the ancient world.

Reviving an ancient (and loud) Thai artform

Photo by Thaweesak Pakdeehoon

Knees, elbows, hands and heads are used to beat the drums.

But the sabadchai is not just about volume. It's also about martial arts, performing arts and music, says instructor Krangkrai Jadson.

"Not only do drummers have to be as loud as they can be, but they're also expected to perform rhythmic and beautiful movements," he says.

The sabadchai is associated with a kind of northern folk dance.

In the past, it was pounded as a morale-booster before soldiers went to war. Then, as battles raged, its rumble transmitted messages to soldiers in combat.

Krangkrai's class seeks to preserve this Thai traditional art.

"The sabadchai had virtually disappeared from Thai society. Khru Lek [Patravadi Mejudhon, the founder and artistic director of the theatre,] realised that the theatre had the staff and equipment to preserve the art; so, the class was founded," says Krangkrai, an actor at the theatre.

The two-hour class begins with the students doing exercises to warm their legs, arms and hands, the limbs used to beat the drums. Then students review movements and postures - using their heads, elbows and knees - central to drum beating.

After six or seven classes, Krangkrai will ask students to attend the "wai khru" ritual to show respect to their instructors.

"Sabadchai combines graceful postures and joyful rhythms," says Pajaree Na Nagara, a soap-opera actress better known as Poodle. "The dance postures are so elegant. They're a kind of exercise."

Pajaree plans to buy a sabadchai drum, costing Bt20,000, so she can practise.

Suchada Chongswang, a Mathayom 3 student at Amnuay Silpa School, says sabadchai helps her perform modern dance. "I'm more accurate with my rhythm when I attend my modern dance class," she says. Suchada has attended 10 classes and plans to continue her sabadchai studies.

Students who study other types of performing arts have an advantage because they tend to move faster and more gracefully, says Krangkrai, 27, the instructor.

Age isn't important as long as students know and understand the rhythm. Krangkrai makes them take a short rhythm test, clapping their hands to the roll of the drum, to learn how to keep the beat.

"Rhythm is central to learning the sabadchai. If you don't get it right, you can't learn," Krangkrai says.

Success, ultimately, depends on practice. And a lot of it. It takes more than a year to get all the postures right.

Krangkrai was student for three years before he became the instructor.

Classes are from 4pm to 5.30pm on Saturdays and 3pm to 6.30pm on Sundays. Tuition is Bt100 a class. Patravadi Theatre is on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phya River, about 300 metres from the Wang Lung Pier. Call (02) 412 7287-8 for more details.


By Suwicha Chanitnun

The Nation


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