More News from Cambodia: Street Performing, Recording, and Former Khmer Rouge Musician Friends

May 22, 2011

It was a day of meetings an events, Most importantly, I went to the Phnom Penh Nerd Night. I’m not exactly clear on how Nerd Night started, but it takes place every other week at a different venue and was initiated by Americans, at least one of them a Harvard grad. Each event has roughly four or six presentations, where nerds talk about themselves and what they do. I came on the right night, because I met a very important nerd (VIN,) named Suloy. Suloy is a twenty-two year old photographer, journalism, and sports coach with a drive for innovation and change. She remembers seeing the Khmer Rouge burning down buildings in 1997 during their final struggle, and she presented her recent photos of the fighting on the Thai border. She is willing to assist me with some things, but unfortunately our schedules will only work out a little.

May 23, 2011

Today, I gave my “edutainment” presentation for the 11 and 12 year olds at the Seametry school. I explained how the Parade of One project started and shared music and slides from Rwanda and Vietnam. I was very impressed at how well they grasped and remembered Hutu and Tutsi. Most people I know in the USA have a horrible time remembering which one is which. The students were also able to relate the genocide in Rwanda to their own situation in Cambodia. Muoy, the principal, does an excellent job reinforcing ideas, facts, and vocabulary, by periodically reviewing what has been learned along the way.

Aferwards, Suloy and I visited a slummy building, called Bouding, down the street from my guest house, and she took some photos. Then, Piset (another of my assistants) joined us and I played at the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship monument. Afterwards, we returned to Bouding, and it started pouring rain. But that didn’t stop the dance party!

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left (at the Cambodia/Vietnam Friendship Monument

Pouring rain didn't stop a little dance party at Bouding

This guy knows who the Captain is!

May 24, 2011

Today, Piset and I went to a couple markets where I played. There were lots of interesting and pleased people. One woman told me that there were saxophones in Cambodia, but not since the Khmer Rouge. When I asked why, she didn’t know. Usually, here when I explain why I’m doing what I do (if people ask) they thank me and quietly appreciate it. Like Vietnam, it’s not a terribly inquisitive audience.

At a market

May 25, 2011

This morning I had a meeting at Cambodian Living Arts with one of the founders Arn Chorn-Pond, the great flutist, and one of their programmers Vithur. Arn’s family was killed by the Khmer Rouge, and he was forced to be a soldier. When they discovered he could play flute, his job became to entertain the KR generals. Years later, he founded Cambodian Living Arts to revive the music that was repressed and banned by the Khmer Rouge. There is a nice PBS documentary about his life and work.

We are in the middle of scheming some things, so I don’t want to announce what will be going on. I don’t even know if it’ll happen during this trip or my next time in Cambodia, but surely I will keep you posted. Arn and Vithur also told me the background of Bouding, the slummy building I’d played at a few days back. It had actually been housing specifically for artists and musicians in the 1960s, but of course that all changed when the Khmer Rouge came to power. Now, it is full of crime and prostitution. The government plans to demolish it in the next year or two.

Bouding from the outside

In the afternoon, I met with a friend of Arn’s named Yorn. We met at Buddhist monastery where Yorn has lived with his grandmother for about ten years. The monasteries are a cheap living alternative for the many poor people here. Yorn plays a two-stringed bowed musical instrument and sings as well. He showed me some videos he was making with Arn recently of some traditional Khmer music from the Thai border. There was a very unusual reed instrument called the Ken. It is probably three feet long, and the musician puts the bottom in his mouth and it sticks up well above his head. Like a harmonica, it produces more than one pitch simultaneously, but it is much larger.

In the evening, I met with Solany (one of my three assistants.) We went to Wat Phnom, a park which is considered the birthplace of Phnom Penh, and of course, I gave some street performances there. One guy came and started singing along. A lot of other people checked it out and asked if playing sax made my throat sore and wondered how I had so much breath.

This guy liked to sing along...

May 26/27, 2011

First thing this morning, I had a meeting at Cambodian Living Arts to meet some local musicians. Vithur introduced me to a master of the Chapei Dong Veng, which is a long necked, two-stringed guitar. (From here on, I’ll call it a two stringed guitar.) First, I observed the master teaching a student, then I showed them sax and clarinet. Finally, we collaborated on some tunes, and the master improvised some lyrics welcoming me. The two stringed guitar is often played to accompany very lengthy improvised lyrics on any number of subjects. I am beginning to scheme about which Cambodian musicians might want to join me for street performance.

Arn Chorn-Pond picked me up from CLA, and I joined him going around town shopping for film equipment, while he had scheduled some more meetings for me, interspersed throughout the day. One was with another staff member of Cambodian Living Arts, and another was with an organization called Youth for Peace. We are trying to foster some relationships that might produce some collaboration on this trip and in the future.

Later, we picked up an old friend of Arn’s who had also been a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge. Arn had only recently discovered this guy was still alive. He plays mandolin, and was the second ranking child musician in the Khmer Rouge, while Arn was the first. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th ranks were all killed. We and a bunch of other people, got some dinner at a wonderful restaurant on the Mekong River. It was quite a monumental meal. The Mekong was beautiful, we sat in hammocks, and the food was delicious. Afterward, we went to Arn’s house where we recorded some children’s music about hygiene, peaceful mindsets, etc. The music we recorded was composed by a guy who’d been permanently injured when the USA bombed the part of the Ho Chi Minh trail that is in Cambodia. He also directed the recording. A bunch of us spent the night at Arn’s, because we were getting up early to film a music video at a school. Due to the language barrier, I wasn’t much help with the video, but it was interesting to watch.

Arn lives about twenty minutes outside of Phnom Penh right on the Mekong, and my sleeping quarters at his house were basically outdoors. The one thing I don’t think I could ever adjust to about rural living is the roosters. They just never shut up! I think there were baritones, sopranos, and tenors all working together to thwart a good night’s sleep.

My sleeping quarter at Arn's house

May 28, 2011

Today, I paid another visit to Bouding. I was disturbed by rain again, but this time only a little, nothing major. I think it’s my favorite place to play in Phnom Penh. Here are a few images: