On Friday February 8th 2013, we gave a special screening of the Thai documentary, Baby Arabia. “(The film) examines how the band’s infectiously rhythmic blend of Malay and Arab music is reconciled with the Muslim faith. The band’s sprawling lineup includes accordion, guitars, keyboards, several singers and a battery of drums and percussion.” (Source – Wise Kwai’s Bangkok Cinema Scene)
Thailand (2010, 80 minutes)
Thai w/English subtitles
Directed by: Panu Aree, Kaweenipon “Salim” Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee
Cast: Jameelah Boonmalerd, Supachai Luanwong, Suriyah Madtorhead
Baby Arabia follows one of the oldest Thai-Muslim bands specializing in the subcultural genre of Arab-Malay music – the bouncy ethnic cross-pollination of Arabian melodies, Malay throbs,Thai Luke-thoong kicks, and a bit of Latin tempo. We meet Geh, founder of the band who taught himself to play the accordion 35 year ago. Geh is joined by Umar, a former Koran teacher and now a guitarist with a knack for Egyptian numbers. Fronting their band is Jamilah, a husky-voiced, humble diva who teaches the Koran during the day and sings Arabic songs at night while wondering if the world of melody can be both faith-bound and joyously secular. Baby Arabia plays cover version of classical as well as contemporary Arab and Malay music (though the band members do not speak those languages) and they’ve been touring mosque fairs, circumcision rites and weddings at Muslim communities around Bangkok and the Central Region for three decades. Though some Islamic scholars question their brand of worldly merry-making, claiming that it’s against the law of the religion, the humanizing power of music and irresistible exuberance of their songs provide a definitive counter-argument.
-Panu Aree, Co-director
Co-sponsored by Muslim Societies in Asia Pacific