A Change of Guard

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Saturday 16 January 2010

'Electric Cambodia' Documents the Golden Age of Southeast Asian Modern Rock

Electric CambodiaFor many of us, our thoughts of Cambodia are limited to the "killing fields" genocide of the Pol Pot regime that have plagued the Country's reputation. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, with the help of China, evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. Aside from forced labor, they discarded medicine and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. Including rock 'n' roll.

Released this past Tuesday, the 14-track compilation, 'Electric Cambodia'--selected with care by the members of the Los Angeles rock band Dengue Fever--takes a deep look at the Country's intoxicating rock of the 60s and early 70s. A mating of Western and Eastern sounds, it was an era that produced such noted Southeast Asian musicians as singer-songwriter Sinn Sisamouth, one of the kingpins of the Cambodian music scene, and the brilliant female vocalists Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea. It is the product of a golden age literally lost in time. This exhilarating style was wiped off the face of the earth when Cambodia's best-known performers--including Sisamouth, Ron, and Sereysothea--became victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

While the artists vanished forever, their music somehow survived. Cambodia's electric music has been circulated hand-to-hand on cassettes, duplicated cheaply at high speed and bearing little or no information about the songs or those who performed them. Fortunately, the older sister of Dengue Fever's Cambodia-born lead vocalist Chhom Nimol was able to identify the material and put names to the songs.

The members of Dengue Fever show their respect for the music by performing their rocking renditions of 60s Cambodian music in their live shows--and by committing proceeds from 'Electric Cambodia' to the nurturing of Khmer culture today. Proceeds from the album benefit Cambodian Living Arts, a project of the non-profit Massachusetts-based Marion Institute devoted to supporting the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts and inspiring contemporary artistic expression.

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