Keep Louisville Weird with Thai-singing Klingon Cellists!

Jon Silpayamanant as j'onn, the Klingon Cellist, during a show at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (Indianapolis), March 2011

So a couple days ago I was actually asked to play an upcoming event, the Terrabeat Showcase, that is going to “feature local ‘worldbeat’/cultural musicians from the city’s immigrant communities who are not yet fully integrated into Louisville’s mainstream music scene so that worldbeats influence in Louisville can be enhanced.”  Some of the other ethnic musicians to be featured will be Indian, Somali and Bhutanese immigrants.  I supposed I’ll be representing the Thai and, um, Klingon ethnic groups?

As I’ve been doing more solo cello as well as music/dance related duets lately, it’s only natural (I suppose) that I *ahem* boldly go where no cellist has gone before.  Not that this would necessarily be much of a stretch for me.  I already sing in Thai (and Klingon plus a few dozen other languages) while playing cello (and other instruments, such as dumbek).  I already have a huge untapped reservoir of material to use and styles to combine (though I’m not sure how I would incorporate beating amplified sheet metal through effects pedals into this show–though I could totally see Klingons doing this kind of thing).

Point is, it’s always nice to not have to rely on the schedules and limitations of others, especially when experimenting with new things.  I still have yet to fully develop Klingon Music theory given the existing canonic (and not so canonic) material, though that is still [yet] another work in progress.  And while I don’t often sing in Thai (just not that much opportunity for that yet, or rather not enough time to develop that) the first tunes I ever learned how to sing were Thai songs, and I still occasionally sing them when the need hits.

Jon Silpayamanant singing a Thai Classical Chant for Kristi Renee who is doing a fusion dance with Thai Fan Leb (fingernail dance) and Bellydance. Kira's Oasis (Dayton), January 2007.

But the idea of showcasing ethnic music (whether dressed as a Klingon or not) just appeals to me, and as my mother often tells me when she wants me to look for Thai movies and/or music or her, sometimes I just get tired of hearing the English language.  And more ethnics [sic] need to play out if only so that local communities don’t get a false sense of what’s actually out there in their [local] worlds.

And with a little luck, folks that perform can be what’s called in psychology, disinhibitory contagion.  This is a robust psychological phenomenon where folks who would generally follow the pack, because of whatever psychological rationalization they have made, do something that they really wanted to do after having experienced someone else going against the grain.

We sometimes see the negative side of this thing as when a high profiled (in the media) suicide coincides with a sharp spike in suicides by folks who somehow identified closely with the media personality.  But I think the positive side of this is to have more and more folks, who don’t normally play Western music (whether Classical or Pop) decide that it’s really OK for them to get out their sitars, koras, tablas, ouds, kavals, or whatever instrument from the homeland and get their funk on.

And from my own experience (which is considerable as I’m active playing in or working with 1) Balkan Band, 2) Klezmer Band, 3) World Music Ensemble, 4) Greek Musicians, 5) Central Asian dance/music project, 6) tabla/cello Indian/Middles Eastern Fusion project, etc.) Caucasian Americans are getting just as interested in this new music.

Jon Silpayamanant and Maja Radovanlija playing Balkan music in Kermes at the Runcible Spoon Gypsy Market (Bloomington), October 2010

Let’s face it, you can go anywhere to see a Symphony (though that might be getting rarer these days) Orchestra, or a cover band playing top 40 hits, or an original band singing in English and playing in an Anglo-American rock style, right?  And that’s the stuff that permeates the normal radio and other traditional media outlets.  How many Beatles cover bands do we need anyway?

Anyway, I’ll be developing a show for this and I suspect it will be something completely different than all the other things I do–or rather, it might be something that completely melds everything else I do!


  1. When I read the title of this post I noticed that “cellists” was plural and was hoping to hear all about the other Thai singing Klingon cellists in Louisville! I am sorely disappointed that this was not the case. 😛 In any case, this sounds totally awesome and I hope you make recordings of whatever you do so we non-singing human cellists who don’t live anywhere near Louisville can be part of this too!!!


    • haha–I don’t think there are any other Thai singing Klingon cellists in Louisville (or the world for that matter) but I will definitely report to you if I do come across any! I’m still thinking about releasing a solo recording (or ten) in the near future. I’ve just gotta decide what they heck I want to put on it–or rather, cut down the number of things I want to put onto one!


      • So perhaps this post should have been titled Keep Louisville Weird Awesome with the World’s Only Thai-singing Cellist! Also, instead of cutting down the number of things you want to record, put them all into logical groupings and record them in order of which groups are driving you most crazy to not have recorded first. This way ALL of the awesomeness will be out there eventually! :p


      • On a more serious note … what you’re describing, where performers crowd around certain styles until they see someone doing something different, seems to me to be pretty similar to something you see in the writing world – I think of it as writers wanting *permission* to do certain things.

        So, for example, they’ll say they have an idea for a story in a non-Western setting, then write about Western characters who happen to be visiting. Sometimes they’re convinced that editors won’t buy anything which is too unlike what’s out there, too … _original_.

        Not to say editors have no biases, but it’s a shame to see this additional level of self-censorship as people pre-reject perfectly good ideas.

        (And let me add: there are plenty of fine stories with Western characters in non-Western settings. Usually, though, those stories are at their hearts about travel and change – not about an outsider walking into another culture, where everyone else is a passive part of the scenery.)


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