The Commoner vocalist and guitarist Chuveath “Jay” Dethdittharak discusses the challenges of creating and performing politically conscious material in Bangkok.
On Jun 29, The Commoner headlined a concert to mark the 87th anniversary of constitutional monarchy in Thailand, organized in collaboration with hospitalized political activist Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat. We met with vocalist and guitarist Chuveath “Jay” Dethdittharak to discuss the challenges of creating and performing politically conscious material in Bangkok.
How was the atmosphere during your Jun 29 concert on Ratchadamnoen Avenue?
At first, the atmosphere was a little bit somber as all members were worried about being the target of an attack, because pro-democracy activist Pai Dao Din [Jatupat Boonpattarasaksa, the Khon Kaen University student imprisoned in 2016 for sharing BBC Thai’s biography on the king] had just been released from prison. However, the tension subsided as we saw the audience was able to have fun.
Was there any police and military presence?
Yes, there were uniformed police and military at the venue to observe and provide security.
What is your relationship to Ja New?
We were both activits in our universities. Though I barely knew him, I regularly saw him around and appreciate the urgency in his efforts to appeal to Thai democracy. Frankly, the brutal attack on Ja New didn’t initially make a big enough impact on society, and prompted no official government response. It was almost swept under the rug, but social media has helped shine a light on the issue. The uproar in response to the attack shows that the level of distrust toward the government in Thailand is growing.
How did The Commoner form?
Kaew Sai [also vocals and guitar] and I met in 2011 when we were volunteering for the flood relief efforts at Komol Khemtong Foundation. Actually, during my time at university, I had a band called Saleung. Although Kaew Sai wasn’t an official member, he played cajon [a percussion instrument] for my band at all our events. After graduation, I wanted to keep the band going and changed the name to The Commoner. Then I met Pai [phin, a traditional Thai stringed instrument], who was also a volunteer at Komol Khemtong Foundation and asked him to join the band.
“Since 2014, we have been living in constant fear”
What does your group stand for?
Democracy begins at home and everyone, whether they are disabled or homeless, should have the equal opportunity to have their voices heard and have the right to self-determination.
Did the attack on Ja New make you afraid to perform at the concert?
No. Since the military coup in 2014, we have been living in constant fear. It can’t go further than that. We don’t want to live in a country where we can’t express our opinions or fear meeting people as we’re afraid of being arrested, so holding a concert is a creative political activity to raise our voices.
What is the meaning of the song “Someday”? It was reported that you wrote it for Ja New?
Actually, this song isn’t written for Ja New alone. I wrote this song in order to give support to all activists who are threatened by the government and suffer from depression or are cut off from their families.
Tell us about your song-writing process?
We take one to two days to write a song and compose a melody, and are inspired by Thai political issues. For example, we rewrote the song called “We Are Friends,” which was inspired by the situation where 14 Thai students were arrested for holding anti-junta protests. And we have numerous unreleased songs in our vault.