segunda-feira, novembro 12, 2007

Don't Think I've Forgotten
(Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll)

You might have noticed that at the right end bottom, I’ve got one of these Neoworx visit counters that all the great blogs have ;-). It’s a free try and buy that ends today. I think I’m going to keep it because it’s always nice to know who’s passing by. At present it states 1000 visitors from 38 countries and 249 cities. I wonder who those 172 people from Antwerp are because I enabled the option of keeping my own visits out of it, but apparently that’s not the case or maybe I’m suffering from a Multiple personality disorder just like Dylan in that new biopic movie I’m Not There. I just got the soundtrack and it’s a really swell tribute to the old master.

I could post a Sufjan Stevens' song every day because I like everything he does. I rarely use big words but I’m starting to believe that this guy’s a genius. He keeps producing and arranging wonderful stuff. Another surprise is Karen O from The YeahYeahYeah’s version of Highway 61.

Karen O & The Million Dollar Bashers – Highway 61 Revisited - I’m Not There OST
Sufjan Stevens – Ring Them Bells - I’m Not There OST

All those exotic names makes one dream of far away places and travels. It's also nice to see how flat the world is getting but there’s still a difference in the number of internet users. Most visitors are from Europe and the States and Asia. No sign of Africa and the Middle East so far. Some visitors from brasil is always nice (muito obrigado) but no visitors from India... Bangalore and all? I guess that people from countries with their own type of scripture usually stick to their written language and that maybe still creates a kind of barrier. If you’re from India and are looking for Bollywood you’re probably are not going to do that in googlish. It’s just a guess.
Anyway, it reminds me that I haven’t done anything music wise with my last travel to the Far East. Usually when I go on a holiday, I search for local music but I’m starting to lose the hang of it. It tends to get in the way of holiday pleasures and activities. That’s why I came back empty handed this time. For the first time, really. A pity but I don’t have to feel sorry to long because there’s plenty of music on the net.

I’m used to some surprises by now, when it comes to worldbeat treasures, but it still is a surprise to learn that Cambodia used to have a very flourishing popular music scene in the late sixties and early seventies which was a perfect example of my definition of glocal pop music: Global pop formats meet local sounds, rhythms and vocals.

All of this has literally vanished into thin air, because of the war and the cultural setback during the Khmer Rouge regime but some of it survived in the Cambodian diaspora.

I stumbled on a site that promotes a movie that’s being made about this great loss and the actions that are being taken to reconstruct this heritage and celebrate those who survived. This documentary film, Don't Think I've Forgotten, provides a new perspective on a country usually associated with war and genocide. By celebrating this powerful music, and the people who created it, Cambodia's musical heyday emerges from the shadows of tragedy into the light of history.

Just imagine, this music down below, being played at rooftop parties while bombs ignited the evening sky when the peasant Khmer Rouge army closed in on the capital city of Phnom Penh. It makes a whole different take on it.

Here’s a Cambodian Rock movietrailer that explains the rise and fall of Cambodian Khmer Rock.

There are also lots of compilations featuring rock and popmusic from the 60's and early 70's. Cambodian musicians took various rock music styles sweeping across America and England and created a sound like no other by adding the unique melodies and hypnotic rhythms of their traditional music. The only thing that comes close, is the music that was made during the same era in Ethiopia and some of the Bollywood craze of that period. The typical Asian style of singing of the female vocalists and the soft crooning of the men became the final touch that made this mix so enticing.
If you want to go further, just look for
Cambodian Rocks, and check out the wide range of compilations available through this specialist online label, Khmer Rocks which features thousands of original and remastered tracks. Maybe I will post some tracks from it in the future, if I can figure out how it works.

Meanwhile I purchased a copy of Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk & Pop music Vol. 1 on the young Sublime Frequencies label from Seattle which is run by Sun City Girls member Alan Bishop. It exclusively releases recordings of obscure and unusual international music.

Sublime frequencies is a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations.

Sublime Frequencies' involvement in World Music takes a different tack, delighting in the unpredictable, the inexplicable and the bizarre. The label curators are more like eccentric nineteenth-century travelling aristocrats than simple tourists, returning home with untamed and obscure musical treasures that even they haven't quite figured out yet.

They have their own style of releasing records which is fresh but it has it’s fans and it’s critics. There’s hardly any research done but they probably don’t have the means to do so. Or you could make the conclusion that something like Java Radio, or all the others in the Radio series that consist of tape edits of typical radio broadcasts in a specific country with a original approach to radio, are easy money. Nevertheless it’s important to bring this stuff into the spotlight. it's worth it.
Especially the Java Radio brings back fond memories. In Indonesia they like their radio and their music. And they should. It’s an overwhelming experience to hear this distinctly different and very diverse type of music virtually everywhere. Even my travel mates, who weren’t that much into music as such, noticed this strange soundtrack to their daily adventures and were captivated by the atmosphere it created. Gamelan a-go-go it was.
About the Cambodian cassette archive. It’s an overview of Khmer Pop and Rock music as found by Mark Gergis on various anonimous audio tape cassettes that were 'rotting' away at the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library in California. Some tracks are from the heyday and some are made later on by expads during the diaspora of the 70’s and 80’s.

I found some reviews about it, so I don’t have to make up my own words because I already wrote more lines by now than I usually do.

I especially liked this quote:

It’s a strategy that has won as many critics as fans, but this CD of Cambodian pop is exhilarating precisely because of the lack of context. It’s a punch you didn’t see coming.

I wonder how I would have reacted to this CD if I had heard it 10 years ago. Maybe I would have been knocked out, I don’t know. I remember how that Ethiopian Groove sampler had that effect on me, so I saw this one comin’ :-).

Other quotes really get under your skin and have an eerie sound if you’ve been to Cambodia and have learned something about the horrors which took place:
…when these tapes were discovered in Oakland public library, they were even slowly being erased by accident. Behind the music is a murky history—one of disintegration, of both a country and its culture.

It's sadly appropriate, then, that this compilation of Cambodian pop music, spanning the 1960s through the 1990s, had to be pieced together from more than 150 cassettes (described as "ravaged" in the liner notes) found in the Asian branch of the Oakland, CA, public library.
From a Stylus article
An unbelievable collection of dynamic Cambodian music recorded between the 1960s and the 1990s, both in Cambodia and in the United States. A truly Khmer blend of folk and pop stylings - Cha-Cha Psychedelia, Phase-shifting Rock, sultry circle dance standards, pulsing Cambodian new wave, haunted ballads, musical comedy sketches, Easy-Listening numbers and raw instrumental grooves presented in an eclectic variety of production techniques. Male and female vocalists share the spotlight, embellished by roller rink organ solos, raunchy guitar leads and MIDI defying synthesizers. Culled from over 150 ageing cassettes found at the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library in California, these recordings showcase a pre and post holocaust Cambodian musical lineage that can't be ignored.

Richie Unterberger at
Cambodian Cassette Archives is certainly many removes away from presenting an objective picture of this mysterious genre. Some of the tracks were original songs cobbled together in Cambodia prior to the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, but most were versions made much later by exiled ex-pats.
Pol Pot's horrific regime in Cambodia wreaked destruction in multiple directions, including irreparable damage to the country's culture and musical heritage, as well as the loss of so many lives.

For Western listeners, much of the interest lies in the sheer novelty of hearing unfamiliar collisions, with melodramatic Cambodian vocals, melodies, and operatic orchestration charged by raw psychedelic guitar, cheesy organ, and fusion-like horns. Bubblegum pop and hi-NRG are a recurrent, irrepressible energy source; dubby and phased psychedelic production shows a taste for cheap sonic thrills.
Though late-20th century Cambodian pop can probably never come close to being documenting with any reasonable thoroughness, this unusual reissue captures at least a slice of it, performing a valuable artistic and musical service.

The artists on this collection were inspired by popular Cambodian musicians from the 1960s and '70s, most of whom were murdered by the government during Pol Pot's dictatorship. Six of the 20 tracks actually come from the fruitful earlier period of recording, but the rest were recorded in the 1980s and '90s, mostly by Cambodian immigrants to the United States. You'll hear a wide range of eastern/western and ancient/modern influences and instruments on these songs. There are bits and pieces of punk, reggae, garage rock, psych, and even a strangely Morricone-esque instrumental. The production is obviously pretty low budget, but the recording quality is surprisingly good and the arrangements display great ingenuity in spite of the artists' limitations.

If you like vintage Bollywood, or the 70's Ethiopiques releases you needn't hesitate. This CD is another find for hunters of exotic or quirky fun music. The CD is also beautifully illustrated with artwork from the original cassettes.

Blue Basket – Anon
unknown 4 – Meas Samon
Don't Let My Girlfriend Tickle Me – Sim Sisamouth
Srey No (Lady Named No) – Anon
unknown 11 – Anon
unknown 12 – Anon
unknown 18 – Anon
Birds Are Singing But My Lover Won't Return – Anon

And since we’re traveling, some other worldly sounds.

William Onyeabor – Better Change Your Mind
I first heard this one on the great (-) blog Siebe Thissen has. The links lead to the Dr Auratheft/Mom Radio page whee he ads his own mixtapes. This one is on the first Africa Wakbarr volume and it took me quite a while to track it down. It’s about (de)colonization which is still a hot topic since this world is getting flatter.

Khong Khao Noi Mea Ka 99 (feat. Noppadol Duangporn) – Pleng Peebah (Crazy Song)
I didn’t only stay in Cambodia but also in Thailand which is where this one comes from. It’s from Molam (Thai Country Groove From Isan).

Caetano Veloso – Odara
Arthur Verocai – Bis (Eddy Meets Yannah Mix)
Over to brasil for a new episode in Caetano Veloso’s discography. I finally have my copy of Bicho which features the well known O Leãzinho about a little lion which every brazilian kid learns in school and as such became Veloso’s big breakthrough after years of exile and obscurity. The opening track is Odara which has always been a personnel favourite of mine. It’s not that brilliant compared to other songs but the refrain just sticks to yer head.
I just recently posted the original version of Bis by Arthur Verocai. It’s from a new album called Encore and it’s nothing less than a revelation. Verocai is a man who lived for many years in obscurity if you look at it from an European perspective but who has been a kind of musicians musician in brasil. He became famous in the sixties and collaborated with almost every major MPB star, worked as musical director for Globo television and became a fulltime arranger. Far Out Records tracked him down and made a new album with him together with Azymuth and Ivan Lins. It’s just simply great. Anessential if you like brazilian music. I have to track down more of his music but that will probably be a tuff one.

Eagles of Death Metal – Flames Go Higher An oldie
Belleruche – Minor Swing The New Moloko?
Matthew Dear – Don And Sherri without a doubt, THE dancetrack of the year!
Matthew Dear – Elementary Lover (DJ Koze remix)
Free Blood – Never Hear Surf Music Again (ACTH remix)
Jill Scott – Living My Life Like It’s Golden (Kenny Dope rmx) it ain’t to difficult with mixes like this
Jerboa – Number One so far, the best Belgian export product this year – it’s definitely one for the bongoparade.

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