dijous, 1 d’abril del 2010

One thousand tears of a Tarantula

"Senon Williams, Nimol's bandmate in Dengue Fever -- a Los Angeles group that began doing versions of Cambodian pop and rock tunes in the early 2000s... -- explains that "ghost voice" is an actual technical term in Cambodian singing as heard in this track.

"It's where you break from one octave to the next and the voice cracks," he says.

"The high key," Nimol explains.

"Ros Sereysothea was the master of that," Williams adds.

But in this case it has a double meaning: The singer on the radio, whoever it was, had almost certainly been killed during the brutal late-'70s reign of Pol Pot's totalitarian Khmer Rouge. Estimates of the total deaths attributable to the Khmer Rouge range as high as 2 or 3 million from execution, starvation and disease, most of them buried in mass graves. Musicians and artists -- pretty much anyone seen as educated or connected to the cultural identity of the earlier Cambodia -- were among those targeted for elimination.

"It is very sad," Nimol says, in halting English, sometimes with help from friend Soche Meas. "Our musicians, they are gone."

The only people who did survive were musicians, not singers," Williams says. "John Pirozzi, who directed our film 'Sleepwalking Through the Mekong,' has done insane research for his own film he's doing about this but only found a few surviving band members, guitar players. But no one in the limelight survived."

Those ghost voices are being honored on 'Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia.' Subtitled '14 Rare Gems From Cambodia's Past,' the CD is just that -- samples of a lost era of Cambodian pop music. Much of the music exists today only via cassettes that made their ways around the Cambodian exile communities of California. A couple of previous compilations have made their way via the cultural curiosity seekers networks, notably the door-opening 1996 compilation 'Cambodian Rocks,' from the Parallel World label; and 2004's 'Cambodian Cassette Archives,' drawn from deteriorating tapes in the archives of the Oakland [Calif.] Public Library by global ephemera-centric Sublime Frequencies. These all show a culture enamored by Western pop -- the songs are redolent of quasi-psychedelia, with reverb guitars and cheesy organ -- without any sacrifice of Cambodian-ness."

Steve Hochman, Spinner Music. Ghost voices come to Life on Dengue Fever presents Electric Cambodia.