11 June 2018


I am not a great traveler. I often get sick and exhausted and don't get much sleep from sleeping in strange places on hard beds. That being said I have traveled a lot and one of the big upsides to me living in China is that I have had the chance to visit most all of the neighboring nations, including Vietnam, Laos, a short visit to Burma, India, Thailand, Malaysia and, as to to the topic of this post, Cambodia. These neighboring counties and cultures all seems to hang on to old traditions and customs in a way that China seems not too interested in doing. It is refreshing to see all of that even if the trips themselves have often pushed to to my physical limits. Almost all of the trips my wife and I travelled alone and while of course we will see some of the well known tourist sites we also shy away from them after a few days and then wander around old temples and alley ways and markets. We also typically stay in one or two places for a long time, as opposed to hitting a place every day like many travelers do. Such was the case when we stayed in Siem Reap in Cambodia for about ten days. We hit Angkor Wat and all those places but soon we were drifting around eating at different places and checking out Buddhist monasteries. 

While there I visited a few music stores and even bought some CDs and music related postcards and it made me aware of the forgotten if not actually never known of in the first place music culture that came out of Cambodia between the late fifties and the coming of Pol Pot in 1975. I had stumbled upon the music of Dengue Fever from the Matt Dillion film City of Ghosts, sat in Cambodia. They did a cover of the Joni Mitchell song Both Sides Now that played over the end credits. Singer Chhom Nimol sang in "Cambodian" (or Khmer or I believe it is called) and it just hit me as so wonderful. I shared with a couple people I knew and they hated it, saying her voice was too strange and high pitched and that the language was sounded odd. I knew then I was on to something. I think the underground but also commercial success of Dengue Fever (a San Francisco band actually that were blessed with finding Chhom singing in a KTV/Karaoke club while searching for a singer in Phnohm Penh) maybe helped to spark a interest in the lost world of Cambodian pop/rock music of the 60"s and 70's.

Cambodian music was defined prior by singer Sin Sisamouth, sort of Frank Sinatra of Cambodian music, but as times changed the kids wanted something like that cool rock and roll stuff they hearing over the shared radios or communal loud speakers. While most of the rock music they heard was from French rockers like Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan it was still, in essence, American rock and roll. The music had a twangy/surfy go-go feel at times and yet still incorporated the spirit of traditional Cambodian folk and royal music. Even Sin Sisamouth decided to jump on the hip new sound bandwagon and did songs like A Go Go. Maybe not to everybody's liking but it is to mine. While exploring this music I also stumbled across other styles such as the rock music of the 70's from Turkey and Iran as well as the psychedelic rock music scene from Nigeria from the s me time period. Not a grammy winner in the bunch. Thank God. 

Lot of info can be found in the documentary Don't Think I Have Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock 'n' Roll. The excellent film features the music and some biographical information on many of the singers and musicians of the period, including Sins Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Pen Ran, Huoy Meas and Yol Aularong. Sadly all these singers suffered and eventually perished under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. 

A couple album covers here are from newer retro type psychedelic rock/funk bands, like Cambodian Space Project and Dengue Fever and not the older bands and singers. However singers Chhom Nimol (Dengue Fever) and the late Kak Channthy (Cambodia Space Project) often cover songs by many of the old singers, in particular thos of Pen Ran.



I haven't shared any sort of personal pictures since my post about my wife and I going to see the re-release of Jurrasic Park years ago. Seems my post above on the Cambodian music scene of the 60's and 70's motivated me to share a few images from our ten days at Siem Reap. Hope you enjoy them a little. 


Bob Johns said...

Great pictures from Cambodia

Bill Courtney said...

Bob, yea, that trip was nice overall. Sadly those well known spots like Angkor Wat are so crowded it is unnerving. I had European women snapping at me because I stooped walking to look at something it I was ruining their selfie stick group portrait.

Bob Johns said...

"Selfie Stick group portrait" now thats funny!

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