From her humble beginnings in Isan, Takataen Cholada has taken the Thai pop world by storm.

By: Ploenpote Atthakor
Source: Bangkok Post

It's not easy indeed to get an interview with folk diva Takataen Cholada, whose real name, Cholada Thongchunklang, is lesser known.

Her agent said Takataen, who has released a number of smash hits one after the other including Mai Chai Faen, Tham Than Mai Dai (Not My Boyfriend), Ji Rak Rue Ji Lork (Loving or Cheating), Pen Khon Thad Pai (May I be Your Next Girl) has had a full schedule after recovering from bronchitis, which put her in hospital for three days and required a week-long rest at home. Her doctor instructed her to cancel all tour dates and refrain from singing or using her voice at all.

After a series of phone calls with her agent about the time and place for the interview, we finally settled at a studio in Meng Jai area one evening. According to her agent, the singer would be free - albeit only briefly - after a recording session for a special album dedicated to renowned composer/song writer Khru Sala Khunnawut. After the interview, said the agent, the artist would leave for a long-haul tour programme, starting in the eastern region, that very same evening. Then she would continue her tour in the North of Thailand.

By the time 'Muse' arrived at the studio, we were told Takataen's recording was under way and, if we'd like, we could take a peak into the recording room.

Inside, Takataen was deeply concentrating on her lines and, as expected, was charming the people around her with her well-trained and impeccable voice.

It was already late in the evening when the recording came to an end, and Takataen was whisked to a photo room where she posed for the album's cover before she headed, without a pause, to the studio's sound control room where we were to do the interview.

"I need just a few seconds for a clothing change if that's all right with you," she softly said.

On returning, Takataen looked easy-going in a casual outfit - black velvet jacket and loose balloon-shaped slacks, mimicking clothes worn by ethnic hilltribes.

"Yes, my tour programme is indeed jam-packed," said the 25-year-old singer to begin the interview.

Why did her doctor allowed her to take the microphone so soon?

"Well, that's no problem. I can do it just fine," she said.

With a mischievous smile, Takataen confided that she did not fully follow the doctor's instructions to rest until completely recovered.

"In fact, at the time I was supposed to stay in bed, I was on another kind of tour, making appearances on stages where I was supposed to be giving a concert. This was my way to apologise to my anxious fans about being really unable to perform and needing a little more time for recouperation."

She got her rest, Takataen said, while travelling from one province to another. "It's quite all right. I have gotten used to it," she said.

After all, singing has always been the dream career for this Isan girl - a rice farmer's daughter from Nakhon Ratchasima's Pra Thong Kham sub district.

Like many Isan girls, Takataen, at the age of 15, left her hometown for Bangkok after she finished Matayomsuksa 3. She started working in plastic pellet and garment factories.

However, Takataen said she has always had a strong love affair with singing and whenever possible she would enter singing contests at temple fairs or department stores. She would still turn up for contests even if there was no prize, just for the sake of singing.

"My mother loves singing luk thung songs and she always sang them for us. In fact, my whole family loves singing. I still remember Mum's favourites," she said, adding that one of them was by National Artist Pongsri Voranuj.

It was her win at the First Stage Show competition in 2002 that began her journey to stardom.

An advisor of the contest recognised her talent and introduced her to GMM Grammy which arranged a singing audition.

She smoothly passed the test but was put under a voice training programme for more than a year.

"My singing was okay, but not good enough for the masters," she said, when asked why she needed training. She also completed non-formal education and is now studying mass communications at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, majoring in radio broadcasting.

In 2004, she released her debut album, Nao Saeng Ne-on (Shivering Under a Neon Light), which was received warmly by fans and Takataen quickly became a household name. Her follow-up album in 2007 was a huge success and contained the mega-hit song, Mai Chai Faen which swept seven Maha Nakhon awards, the top luk thung music honour. She also grabbed more awards the same year.

Her third album is doing well, and Faen Keb (Secret Girl) is currently on top of the luk thung music chart.

Yet Takataen said she is not very comfortable with the "mega star" label given to her by the press or radio hosts.

"I don't think I am that great, really. I am happy to be a star, but I realise I'm only one among many others. Besides, I am the same old me, and I still love som tam poo pla ra [papaya salad with salty crab and Isan-styled ferment fish]. There have been no big changes," she said with a giggle.

But while other entertainers have been experiencing sluggish album sales in the digital age, Takataen has managed to sell over a million copies. Besides, Mai Chai Faen is phenomenal in the way that two rising stars have already released Isan-style remakes, in vibrant soeng and morlam versions while the original song is still a hit.

Takataen nodded as she observed that most of her hits are songs representing "the other woman" in a love triangle, but when asked if that's close to her own experiences, the artist tactfully ducked.

"Love can come in many forms to many people and it can happen to anyone. What I wan to say is that my heart is with them. All I hope is that those looking for love eventually meet the right guy - someone who can be their man in real life," she said.