Caravan were a 1970s Thai folk group comprised of students who helped lead the opposition to their homeland's then corrupt and brutal military dictatorship, who for a brief time at least, beginning in 1973, managed to depose the dictatorship's leader, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. Between then and late 1976, when Kittikachorn returned to power in a military coup and declared martial law, and in the process massacred one hundred students and imprisoned several thousand more, the group had coalesced around four activist musicians influenced equally by the Western protest music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, as well as the songs and musical heritage of Thailand's peasant working class. Touring widely across the countryside and often appearing at political rallies, they wrote and performed songs with a deep political conscience sympathetic to the poverty of peasants, and which continued to courageously confront the corruptness of the lingering regime, in addition to American imperialism. Kon Gap Kwai (Man & Buffalo)
, recorded in 1975, was the group's debut, and it brilliantly melds Western folk music forms and melodies with indigenous Thai instruments like the phin, saw, and wut. Primarily acoustic, with intertwining layers of acoustic guitars and dirge-like percussive rhythms, the combination proved hugely influential and established the band as the leaders of the Songs for Life movement, with its opening and most famous track having been written by a poet and a militant farmer and which supplied the protest generation's anthem with these lines:
Here is the song of death,
The death of our humanity
The rich eat our labor,
Set one against the other,
As we peasants sink deeper in debt.
And they call us Savages!
We must destroy this system!
It's a beguiling, richly shaded listen of plaintive anthems whose purpose and conviction I think seems clear to whomever the listener. In 1976, upon installation of martial law, the junta declared these tunes and anyone singing them illegal and the band was forced to flee to Laos where they lived in exile for several years, while their songs nevertheless lived on clandestinely in the prison camps and farmer's field thereafter.
-Michael Klausman (February 13, 2013)