Mo Lam Klon is a kind of duet singing in which a male singer and a female singer respond to each other in sung verses. The verses are called Klon Lam which encompass a variety of topics such as the way of life, folk tales, nature, Buddhist literature, the northeasterners’ old wisdom, moral saying, thought and advises in response to each other’s comment, and verses about other fields of knowledge.
Mo Lam Klon performance comprises two mo lam (singers)-a man and a woman–each with his and her mo khaen (khaen player). The focus of attention is on the verses that the two singers sing in respond to each other’s “challenge” with sharp wit. A good mo lam needs extensive knowledge in various subjects–history, geography, livelihood, vocations, customs and traditions, morality, social values, religious teachings, Jataka tales and current actualities. They must be sharp-witted and be able to quickly solve the immediate problem on stage. They must also know how to dance beautifully to accompany their verses.
The principal and sole musical instrument for a Mo Lam performance is khaen. The appropriate type of khaen for a performance is chosen by the mo khaen. Male singers are usually accompanied either by a khaen chet (“khaen seven”–a khaen with two rows of seven bamboo sticks or 14 tubes) or a khaen paet (“khaen eight”–a khaen with two rows of eight bamboo sticks or 16 tubes), both of which have a slightly higher pitch than the khaen kao (“khaen nine”) that usually accompanies the female singers.
Besides providing entertainments, Mo Lam Klon also enlightens the audience by passing on knowledge, thoughts, moral teachings, beliefs, customs and traditions; promotes ethics and morals; upholds social norms; and contributes to the preservation of literature and folk arts. It also reflected and communicated folk opinions and community wisdom during those days when education has not been as well developed as it is today. It served as a kind of nonformal education that focused on inculcating good conduct and promoting morality. At one time, Mo Lam contributed to the dissemination of political education, teaching people to understand democracy, and imparting other information such as good family planning, birth control and food hygiene, for example.
Today, Mo Lam Klon faces the same fate that befalls other folk recreational plays and performances: it is disappearing from the Northeast. Adaptation is therefore inevitable in order to keep up with the fast social transformations. The various styles of Mo Lam that has developed from Mo Lam Klon and are replacing Mo Lam Klon in popularity today are: Mo Lam Phloen, Luk Thung Mo Lam, and Mo Lam Sing, for example.
A prominent Mo Lam Klon singer who observes the authentic, original style of the art is National Artist Chawiwan Phanthu.