In the mid 1960s, Cambodian musicians began to combine the scales and instrumentation of traditional Khmer music with surf guitar, farfisa organ, rock beats and balls-out vocals, all drenched with echo and distortion. The result is quite simply the most exciting garage rock I have ever heard. Audio files after the jump.
Flash forward to today (well, to late 2007): WFMU’s Beware of the Blog has posted mp3s of an entire album of the stuff. The copyright status of this music seems to be up in the air: given what Cambodia went through in the late 70s, it’s a wonder the recordings survived at all. The astounding voice on the second track posted above belongs to Ros Sereysothea, the biggest female star of her generation. She was imprisoned in a labor camp, forced to marry a high-ranking Khmer Rouge general, and then shot and abandoned in the jungle. (Other sources claim that she died of malnutrition weeks before the regime’s collapse.) A more detailed account can be found here: It’s a horrifying story – and some of the others are worse. As “westernized” celebrities, the people involved with this music did not fare well under Pol Pot.
So I can’t exactly shout “Woo-hoo! Free music!” in the face of one of history’s most appalling acts of genocide. But I think we can assume that the performers would want their music to be heard, especially since the Khmer Rouge did everything they could to destroy it*. So download the tracks – and if you have the cost of a CD lying around, send a check to the Cambodian Red Cross, or some other worthy charity.
* This opens up a whole other can of worms. Am I, in part, valorizing this music because of the artists’ personal tragedies? But when I’m actually listening to the tracks, I don’t worry about that kind of question because I’m too busy rocking out.
check out Dengue Fever for modern indie-Cambo stylee
Shameless plug for my friend’s father’s charity doing work in Cambodia, in case you’re interested in helping that part of the world out.
Oh and yeah, this music is out of this world.