Gwangju Blog

The Musical Activist

Last Friday, Speakeasy hosted singer/guitarist, Tao Don Tajaroensuk, for their bi-weekly Gwangju Live series. The series began in April as a way to kick off the weekend by showcasing an acoustic set from a local musician. Tao Don sat with his legs crossed casually at the knee and sipped beer as he cruised through roughly two hours of covers, ranging from Bruno Mars to Oasis and Stevie Wonder. The gregarious crowd, full of expats and Koreans, cheered and sang along to the songs and shouted out for several “Doncores” (play on encore) each time he announced his final song. The night ended in a high fives and hugs, as long goodbyes from friends drifted out into the streets. Tao Don was a hit and another successful night of Gwangju Live was in the books, but when the music ends and the crowd goes home, this Thai native is much more than just another bar performer.

His musical story began when he was 14 years old. A young Tao Don first found inspiration to pick up the guitar after seeing a Coldplay concert on MTV. Although he initially began to teach himself the instrument, it was the help of a few local musicians that helped him develop the craft as he took to performing more seriously in his early 20s. He cites fellow axe men such as David Gilmore, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, and Chet Baker as his biggest influences, and continues to look for new artists to feed his creativity. However, his deep passion for music is undoubtedly challenged by his ambitious efforts to improve human rights for his home country.

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Tao Don performs at the Corona’s open mic.

His experience with human rights activism is personal, and his conviction to improving the situation in Thailand is earnest. “I have seen many poor people in my life, since I was very young, five years old. My mom is the one of my inspirations. She is a human rights activist in Thailand. I have seen that she always helps poor people all of my life. I want to keep her spirit and keep her intention.” He became heavily involved by studying various aspects of human rights, such as peace building for armed conflict areas, and strategies to refugee asylum and labor rights. This led him to actively participate in efforts for a democratic movement while he was living in Thailand, which eventually brought his music performances to a halt for the last three years as he poured himself into taking action. While he was obviously devoted to the cause, he knew that he needed a wider scope of knowledge and tools to accomplish his goals. This led him to seek out higher education here in Korea.

He came to Gwangju in 2016 to begin his Master’s degree at Chonnam National University and has steadily gained momentum on his specialized interests. “I came here to study in a international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) program which is called GNMP (Global NGOs Master Program). I got a scholarship supported by the May18 foundation. Learning about human rights and how to manage NGOs. I have to say Thank you to May18 foundation for providing me with this generous opportunity.” He just finished his second semester and is set to graduate in 2018. His goal is to work at the international level with leading organizations such as the United Nations, which has led to additional concentration on his English fluency skills and practice.

Tao Don performs on a fairy from Mokpo to Jeju Island.

Tao Don performs on a fairy from Mokpo to Jeju Island.

One way that Tao Don has focused his English practice is through his recent return to performing music. While his studies and involvement with human rights had put a three year hiatus on his music, he happily credits the Gwangju local open mics hosted by Daniel Wallace for his return to playing guitar and creating music. It has not only brought him closer to the community here, but it has set the stage for his future. “I have two goals of my life. First, is music. I’m doing my album, which has no need to identify in any genre. I’m making songs that are inspired by my experience. I have some songs which are inspired by refugee conflict, ethnicity, and human rights issues I was facing. Many of my songs come from a social problem which I experienced. I want to make human rights songs. My second goal, is I want to be a politician in my country. I want to help poor people, and I realize that how to help many poor people will be working as a policy maker. Thailand is massively corrupt and a hierarchy system country. I want to change Thailand’s structure to eradicate poverty, and give people dignity according to human rights principles.”

As previous generations of musical activists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Bob Marley have carried the torch throughout the last few decades, there is a strong beacon of hope in the genuine drive of talents like Tao Don Tajaroensuk. This world is full of battles, and the tides of humanity are ready for impassioned and dedicated individuals like him to shape the future.