Christy Gibson: Thailand's blond-haired, blue-eyed luk thung crooner

Christy Gibson: Thailand's blond-haired, blue-eyed luk thung crooner

The celebrity stunner opens up about Christianity, music and what it takes to annoy her on a date

Christy Gibson's latest video, "Don't give up," from her new album of the same title.

Far removed from Western country music -- with its cowboy hat-wearing crooners singing about losing girlfriends, dogs and poker games -- Thai country music, called "luk thung," is usually characterized by warbling vocalizations, the wailing of an electric guitar and a whole chorus of unfamiliar instruments.

It’s a unique class of music that foreigners often don’t understand. But for 32-year-old Christy Gibson, luk thung music has truly become a part of her identity. Christy’s parents (her mom is Dutch, her dad British) came to Nakorn Ratchasima province to teach English and help out with a Christian charity group when she was six.

Christy Gibson"Luk thung music is very heartfelt," says Christy. "It expresses real emotions."“Growing up here was terrific," she recalls. "We had a great deal of opportunity to learn new things and gain some amazing life experience, particularly in upcountry Thailand where we were usually the only small white faces around.

“As we were young, we adapted very quickly to our surroundings, to the food, the climate, the language, and I felt at home right away.” 

Interested in music as far back as she can remember, Christy was surrounded by the beats of Issan during the time her family lived in northeast Thailand.

“Luk thung music was playing everywhere I went -- in restaurants, shops, marketplaces, blaring from pickup trucks, and from the portable radios carried around by the farmers as they worked in their rice fields, so it was very natural for me to pick up.”

She started singing in small community events, which soon led to bigger projects: she joined a musical group with fellow farang (foreigner) luk thung singer Jonas Anderson, trained with noted foreign and Thai vocal coaches, and soon found herself singing on stage and television and working on projects to promote Thai culture. 

With her fluent Thai, strong voice, and exotic looks, fame snowballed from there. 

A multilingual performer 

Christy GibsonWith her exotic looks and powerful vocals, Christy -- or Kitty as her fans call her -- is a household name in Thailand. Christy -- known to her fans as Kitty  -- has also been trained in the vocally challenging and intricate music style called mor lam, a form of luk thung with lyrics that are often more Lao than Thai. (Click here to watch a video of her and Jonas performing a mor lam song.)

It’s an energetic style of music considered particularly difficult to master as it’s sung very fast with long stanzas, little repetition and complex vocal inflections. She also sings in English, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. But her heart belongs to luk thung. 

“To me, luk thung music is very heartfelt," says Christy. "It expresses real emotions. It talks about real-life situations and every day events. It’s extremely relatable. I love the fact that whenever I listen to it I feel like I’m back home in up-country Thailand, playing in a neighbor’s field, fishing in the pond, running around with friends on their parents’ farm … it’s a very nostalgic kind of music, and even the sad songs, to me, carry a good feeling about them.”  

Christy just released her seventh album, "Yah Yahm Bai" (Never Give Up). Which means these days her life is filled with promotional tours, radio and TV appearances, music videos, meetings with producers and music executives, activities with fans, charity work and social projects, recording and studio work, press conferences and concert tours. It's a hectic schedule, to say the least.

As for the future, she says she hopes to learn and collaborate with Thai artists and find new ways of making music and expressing herself.

"I hope to stay true to the cultural flavor and the purpose behind why I started doing this in the first place, because I want my music to be cultural, yet current, relatable and relevant to today.”  

15 quick fire questions 

Christy Gibson"I want my music to be cultural, yet current, relatable and relevant to today," says Christy. CNNGo:  What's your current romantic situation?

Christy: Single. 

CNNGo:  What can a guy do on a date to impress you?

Christy: I’d really rather a guy doesn’t try to impress me, honestly. I’m neither a romantic nor emotional person by nature, and I prefer a guy who will just be himself; honest, simple, straightforward, clear. I may like him, or I may not, but I’d rather know right from the beginning.

That being said, however, I try not to judge people strictly on a first meeting basis, as I don’t think that’s nearly enough to be able to pass judgment on a person’s character or personality. 

CNNGo: What can a guy do on a date to annoy you?

Christy: I’m not that easy to annoy, but there are a couple things I suppose that would do the trick, namely, if he’s ill-mannered, or if he is closed-minded or demeaning towards Asian culture.  

CNNGo: What role does Christianity play in your life?

Christy: I think I’ve been very privileged to grow up in a country where the example I saw from the people around me had such a positive influence on my life. Helping those less fortunate, giving to those in need, kindness to strangers, caring for others, being welcoming and understanding of the differences in others, respect for elders, closeness within families; these are all attributes and values that I saw, for the most part, being lived out by the Thai people whom I watched and interacted with on a daily basis.

This had a huge impact on me because these values were also a big part of my upbringing and the way my parents raised me. Thai people are also quite respectful of the faiths and beliefs of others.

Christianity is my faith and what I do my best to live by, and for me personally, part of living out what I believe means to be kind, courteous, and respectful of the culture, customs, and religion of the country where I reside.  

CNNGo: Do you use your music as an entry to Christian missionary work, as some suggest?

Christy: Singing and music is what I love to do. It’s also my career and chosen profession. Though I am personally a Christian, I am, however, not a member of any particular denomination or religious group or entity, and as such, I don’t feel the need to use my music as an entry to anything.

I believe rather that my faith calls me to do my part to give, to find those in need and try to help out wherever I can, to look for opportunities to be of service to others.

Although I’m sure there’s plenty more I can do, and I certainly don’t always get it right, I do believe I try my best.   

CNNGo: You've got an hour and a full kitchen -- what are you making for dinner?

Christy: Som tam (spicy papaya salad), gai-yahng (barbecued chicken), and kao-neeo (sticky rice).  

CNNGo: Tokyo or Hong Kong?

Christy: Tokyo.  

CNNGo: Italy or France?

Christy: Italy.  

CNNGo: Where do you spend most of your time?

Christy: I really spend most of my time all over the place. I rarely stay in Bangkok proper, although I live not too far outside the city, which I love, as it’s near enough to travel into Bangkok for meetings and work, but also still has some of that “up-country” feel and flavor.   

CNNGo: Favorite Bangkok restaurants?

Christy: My favorites are the small restaurants and stalls on the side of the road.  

CNNGo: What do you wish the rest of the world would learn from Thailand?

Christy: One of the outstanding features of Thai people is their friendly and welcoming nature, which is especially very noticeable when you first meet them.

When you go upcountry and you meet people for the first time, they’ll treat you like you’re family and they’ve known you your whole life. That’s pretty special, I think.   

CNNGo: What's the biggest misconception about you?

Christy: That I’m a “farang."   

CNNGo: Favorite piece of jewelry?

Christy: A bracelet from one of the hill tribes in northern Thailand that was given to me by a fan.   

CNNGo: Do you plan to live in Thailand for the rest of your life?

Christy: I really hope so.  

CNNGo: What song have you most recently downloaded onto your iPod?

Christy: English song: “Alligator Sky” by Owl City. Thai song: “Took Yaht Ngeua Peua Teur (ทุกหยาดเหงื่อเพื่อเธอ)” by Bawee (บาวี)

Greg hails from a wee town in Canada that's hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. After coming to Bangkok on a vacation in 2001, he somehow forgot to leave, and has been here ever since.

Read more about Greg Jorgensen