As the music scenes of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville enter the temporary wilderness of ‘low season’, the Leng Pleng Gig Guide begins to thin out slightly. Working musicians look nervously towards two months of heavy rains and the attendant reduction in gig-goers. There is also the matter of the upcoming Pchum Ben holiday (falling this year in late September) which can seem like a temporary evacuation of Phnom Penh. Music venues will, of course, book less gigs during ‘low season’. This can have some drastic consequences amongst the members of the expat music community, some of whom have even been known to contemplate leaving the country during August, September and October. Some have even gone so far as to apply for day-jobs. No such crazy notions will be considered within the walls of Leng Pleng Towers, however. During ‘low season’ Television Ted and I use our spare time constructively - rehearsing our award-winning boxtop-and-harmonica musical duo.
Last night, whilst loitering in the vicinity of Street 172, I was greeted with a vision so startling and incongruous I was immediately rendered slack-jawed and speechless whilst rubbing my eyes in disbelief. There came ‘Smokin’ Kenny Smith, bouncing down the road with his usual gusto, dressed in pressed white shirt and immaculate silk tie. The fitted trousers and shiny black dress shoes were a stark contrast to his normal loose-fit stonewash denims and heavily-worn tennis shoes. It was as if the Coen Brothers had filmed a sequel to ‘The Big Lebowski’ but replaced Jeff Bridges’ cardigan-wearing ‘Dude’ character with some young, clean-shaven, all-American hero in a brand new suit. I recovered my composure long enough to ask Kenny the reason for his transformed appearance. The ace blues guitarist told me that he is now, like many musicians in Cambodia, balancing his weekly slots at Oscar Rock Cafe (every Wednesday) and Sundance Inn & Saloon (every Tuesday) with a regular teaching job.
Hopefully everything will be back to normal by the time we reach the Water Festival in early November...
“Amatak means ‘eternal’ in the Khmer language. It is named to represent our ideal of ‘living’ arts, art that is creative and new while at the same time preserving traditional art styles, and also representing our goal of creating self-sustaining infrastructure allowing Cambodian arts to propagate and continue into the future. As a successor to our Cambodian Youth Arts Festival (CYAF), the Amatak festival shares same goals of encouraging the youth to discover and gain experience with the arts... From 2 to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday the ten groups will hold performances, workshops, and discussions, and hold a 5pm open-mic event on the campus of the Royal University of Fine Arts before returning to our stage at the National Museum to perform fully-staged evening performances from 6:30 to 8pm.”
CLA musicians perform in an alternative setting on Monday evening at Doors Phnom Penh, where traditional instruments such as the Cambodian harp (Pin), Chapei Dong Weng and Kse Kiev will provide the music. Find out program details and further information about the Amatak Festival here.
On Friday night at Meta House, reggae sound system/musical collective Wat a Gwaan present Urban Bass Night. Main man MC Kaztet Dee told Leng Pleng: “Urban Bass Night is Wat a Gwaan’s electronic side... dubstep, drum’n’bass, grime etc. DJ Alan Ritchie, DJ Bree and myself, plus VJ Ben Schkoot for the visual projection.”
Equinox provides a more intimate alternative to the normal Saturday night gig routine. The usual formula of loud band or DJ plus dance floor is eschewed in favour of four singer-songwriters performing acoustically in front of a comfortably-seated audience. Conrad Keely (...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) is joined by Leonard Reyes (Vibratone), Robin Narciso (Sangvar Day) and Sophie Rose. See the cool video below from last month’s songwriter event at Equinox.
Up in Siem Reap, experienced jazzer Alan Breen performs two shows this weekend at FCC Angkor. The self-described ‘silver-haired septugenarian senior citizen slick selmer saxophone specialist’ will perform solo (to backing tracks) on Saturday evening and again during Sunday lunchtime.
The Cambodian Music Festival wound-up last week in Hollywood, California – headlined by Dengue Fever and featuring a cavalcade of Cambodian music stars. The event was apparently a great success and the organisers are already making plans for next year’s event. More information and images are available on the festival Facebook page. The organisers have lent their support to a film project called Elvis of Cambodia – a documentary being made about legendary ‘Golden Era’ singer Sinn Sisamouth. See the videos below for more information about the project and details of the ‘Kickstarter’ campaign to fund it.
Until next time, stay safe out there and.... see you around the traps!
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