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Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll


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Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll


Far from being just a musical survey of 20th century Cambodian music, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten achieves a much loftier goal of cataloging the cultural history of a country fraught with conflict and genocide, with its musical past acting as a grounded through line from the Fifties to the late Seventies.


John Pirozzi purportedly spent nine years gathering material for the project, and the film spotlights musicians and performers who would have been completely forgotten if not for this enterprise.


We begin with Cambodia’s independence from being a French colony in 1953, that country still having a cultural sway over the music of the day. Soon, Afro-Cuban and American doo-wop start to influence the sound, and all of a sudden it’s 1965 and the U.S. has engaged with Vietnam, and here comes the unrelenting swagger of rock & roll to f*** everything up.


There follows an innovative musical renaissance until 1975’s arrival of the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot sends the country into a cultural tailspin, with musicians and artists being slaughtered outright, as others go into hiding to avoid being “disappeared” by “authorities.”






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Thanks so much for this post, Jonathan. I saw this trailer years ago and wondered if the film would ever be finished. A can't-miss for me.

Why is it that the music was so compelling at that time? I have no idea, really. Perhaps because we try to defy death by choosing celebration and life in the midst of war and chaos.

We now live in different, but similar times, and the war gods and destructive nature of our economy are running rampant. Music can soothe, heal, inspire, and create.

Unfortunately, it cannot do the hard work for us. That is a much more gritty and grinding task... of organization and struggle against the machine.

The Cambodian musicians and people-- their liveliness and vivacity-- stand out in these clips.

another link:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2015-06-19/combat-rock/

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Anything by Ros Sereysothea is worth a listen. There are lots of tracks on YouTube.

Although no one seems to know exactly what happened to her, she disappeared during the Cambodian holocaust and was not been heard from afterward. One of millions. What a voice!

Once while travelling in Siem Reap, I watched a troupe of acrobats perform at a sort of theme park. Afterward, other performers were hanging around, and I heard a young woman begin singing a capella. Not as part of the performance, just singing out to the world-- love songs, I think they must have been. I have no idea what the lyrics of the songs said, but I knew exactly what she meant. You know? It was emotionally piercing, gripping stuff. We don't sing this way in the West. There were microtonal things going on, complete vocal virtuosity. The artistry was so evident. A lot of love and study went into it, obviously.

I've never forgotten.

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On a related theme The Cambodia Space Project are definitely worth look and listen.

I'm posting a link to this documentary http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0555v7x which is unfortunately no longer available but links to this http://rockcambodia.com/ contains clips from it.

If anyone can find the whole documentary, please do post here!

There is a load of stuff on the 'net about the CSP - I really like them!

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Thanks so much for this post, Jonathan. I saw this trailer years ago and wondered if the film would ever be finished. A can't-miss for me.

Why is it that the music was so compelling at that time? I have no idea, really. Perhaps because we try to defy death by choosing celebration and life in the midst of war and chaos.

We now live in different, but similar times, and the war gods and destructive nature of our economy are running rampant. Music can soothe, heal, inspire, and create.

Unfortunately, it cannot do the hard work for us. That is a much more gritty and grinding task... of organization and struggle against the machine.

The Cambodian musicians and people-- their liveliness and vivacity-- stand out in these clips.

another link:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2015-06-19/combat-rock/

To be honest, I knew nothing of Cambodian rock and roll (and still don't) until I stumbled upon that article purely by chance. However, the music isn't half bad.

I wouldn't mind watching the film.

Anyone know anything about Cambo rock and roll of today?

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Thanks so much for this post, Jonathan. I saw this trailer years ago and wondered if the film would ever be finished. A can't-miss for me.

Why is it that the music was so compelling at that time? I have no idea, really. Perhaps because we try to defy death by choosing celebration and life in the midst of war and chaos.

We now live in different, but similar times, and the war gods and destructive nature of our economy are running rampant. Music can soothe, heal, inspire, and create.

Unfortunately, it cannot do the hard work for us. That is a much more gritty and grinding task... of organization and struggle against the machine.

The Cambodian musicians and people-- their liveliness and vivacity-- stand out in these clips.

another link:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2015-06-19/combat-rock/

To be honest, I knew nothing of Cambodian rock and roll (and still don't) until I stumbled upon that article purely by chance. However, the music isn't half bad.

I wouldn't mind watching the film.

Anyone know anything about Cambo rock and roll of today?

Not a great help I realise but last time I went to Phnom Penh which was in 2013, I was happily surprised by how much amateur live music was on offer. Loads of small bars especially around the Sisowath Quay area had bands playing for free or very cheap and, presumably hoping to be discovered. Also, because Cambodian law (apparently) allows foreigners to work, some of the band members are from different countries. It makes for an interesting mix of styles and abilities. In some ways, it reminded me of London's "pub rock" scene in the seventies...when I was a lad!

I just did a Google search "live music in Cambodia" - try it - I shall, the next time I visit.

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What a vibrant place Phnom Penh used to be before all hell broke lose!

I think it could be again - I suppose we'll have to wait and see......

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Thanks so much for this post, Jonathan. I saw this trailer years ago and wondered if the film would ever be finished. A can't-miss for me.

Why is it that the music was so compelling at that time? I have no idea, really. Perhaps because we try to defy death by choosing celebration and life in the midst of war and chaos.

We now live in different, but similar times, and the war gods and destructive nature of our economy are running rampant. Music can soothe, heal, inspire, and create.

Unfortunately, it cannot do the hard work for us. That is a much more gritty and grinding task... of organization and struggle against the machine.

The Cambodian musicians and people-- their liveliness and vivacity-- stand out in these clips.

another link:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2015-06-19/combat-rock/

To be honest, I knew nothing of Cambodian rock and roll (and still don't) until I stumbled upon that article purely by chance. However, the music isn't half bad.

I wouldn't mind watching the film.

Anyone know anything about Cambo rock and roll of today?

I do not have any connection with Cambodia itself these days, but there is always youtube. Many of the offerings are sort of syrupy love songs or generic-sounding power ballads which don't do much for me, but there are some videos that may get to you. Here's one I enjoyed, despite the lamentable sound effects. The rhythms in the song are great. And the shots of the countryside may make it worth a look.

You might also be interested in the East-meets-West band Dengue Fever, out of Los Angeles. Their singer is the Cambodian lady Chhom Nipol.

There is a can't-miss short documentary (link below), there are also many links available on youtube.

California has seen a little bit of a Cambodian music renaissance. The mixing of eras, styles, and worldviews is not without controvery. Here is a vid by Bochan Huy that updates the classic "I'm 16" by Ros Sereysothea:

A look into her art, here:

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/08/17/340647451/the-death-and-uneasy-rebirth-of-cambodias-psychedelic-rock

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Modern Khmer music is mainly derivative of K-Pop or Mando-Pop but not quite as good (and I can't believe that I've found something worse than Mando-Pop). Most of the live music venues in Phnom Penh have closed over the last year too. I am yet to encounter a single band in Cambodia of any nationality that I'd want to encounter again.

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  • 1 month later...
An unexpected look into Cambodian rock before the killing fields

By Steve Smith GLOBE STAFF


“When we were young, we loved being modern,” an unseen female narrator says at the start of “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll,” the 2014 documentary film directed by John Pirozzi.


The words are spoken in Khmer, Cambodia’s official language, and translated onscreen, accompanied by stark graphics and ominously rumbling music composed by Scot Stafford. “Then Pol Pot took over Phnom Penh in 1975,” the narrator continues. “I was a singer.” An old photograph of a lovely young woman, smiling and chic, materializes slowly, its sepia tone connoting faded memories.


There is a surprise waiting in “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten,” a labor of love that Pirozzi painstakingly assembled over a span of close to a decade, although the story it tells holds no mystery.


Anyone who knows the history of modern Cambodia — its peaceful liberation from French occupation in 1953, its rush to modernization under the culturally enlightened monarch Norodom Sihanouk, the incursion of the Vietnam War, and the blood-soaked rise to power of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which exacted a horrific toll on intellectuals and artists in particular — will understand that Pirozzi’s topic is not the stuff of happy endings.


The surprise, then, is how much tangible evidence of a thriving, joyous Cambodian musical scene the director was able to retrieve and bring to light.





RELATED: Interview with Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll director John Pirozzi




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Anything by Ros Sereysothea is worth a listen. There are lots of tracks on YouTube.

Although no one seems to know exactly what happened to her, she disappeared during the Cambodian holocaust and was not been heard from afterward. One of millions. What a voice!

Once while travelling in Siem Reap, I watched a troupe of acrobats perform at a sort of theme park. Afterward, other performers were hanging around, and I heard a young woman begin singing a capella. Not as part of the performance, just singing out to the world-- love songs, I think they must have been. I have no idea what the lyrics of the songs said, but I knew exactly what she meant. You know? It was emotionally piercing, gripping stuff. We don't sing this way in the West. There were microtonal things going on, complete vocal virtuosity. The artistry was so evident. A lot of love and study went into it, obviously.

I've never forgotten.

I hadn't heard her until today. Thank you for the introduction

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