Sydney Festival presents
Cosmic Cambodia by The Cambodian Space Project
Directed by Carlos Gomes.
Produced by Intimate Spectacle
About Cosmic Cambodia
(programme text: Harley Stumm)
Welcome to Cosmic Cambodia: a trippy tropical rock opera… a psychedelic sci-fi fairytale fusing ancient epic tales with a funky, feisty take on contemporary Cambodia.
Cosmic Cambodia tells the story of singer Srey Channthy Kak, tired of selling pancakes in the village. Channelling the trickster monkey god Hanuman, she builds a rocket to travel to the moon.
It’s also a reimagining of the haunted “Golden Era” of Khmer rock’n’roll in the liberal 60s-70s of Prince Sihanouk, when waves of popular sounds washed through the music scene: French chanson, soul, surf guitar & psychedelia, as young Khmer danced to stars like Pan Ron, Ros Sereysothea & Sinn Sisamouth, and their hundreds of records, some of which you’ll here reinterpreted tonight.
But this creative explosion ended with the Khmer Rouge takeover. They killed the artists, they destroyed their records, but they couldn’t stop the music. Songs persisted in memory, and eventually resurfaced after three decades of civil war.
Cosmic Cambodia has come from an extraordinary six year creative relationship between Cambodian and Australian artists. The story begins in 2009, when singer Channthy Kak and guitarist Julien Poulson met in a Phnom Penh karaoke bar, and formed the band The Cambodian Space Project, to sing the lost divas and rock legends back to life – and write new songs for a twenty-first century Cambodia.
They were soon touring Cambodia, Asia, Australia and Europe, with a sound spanning Khmer tradition, psychedelia, and soul, and a trippy tropical spacejunk visual aesthetic. Dancers The Spacettes are regular collaborators, fusing their very precise Khmer classical dance with the exuberance of 60s go-go.
For Cosmic Cambodia, CSP has teamed up with Australian theatre makers, producer Harley Stumm, director Carlos Gomes, & audiovisual artist Sam James, to make a show telling a story in song, images and dreams. It draws on all our traditions: classical dance, epic tales both east and west, Khmer pop, rock’n’roll, science fiction, blaxploitation films, shadow puppetry & digital image. A story of escape, adventure, of dreaming big things, and most of all, celebrating life.
The show has been made in two stages, between Kampot in Cambodia, and at Casula Powerhouse in southwest Sydney. In late 2014, we were privileged to work in a wonderful cultural exchange with Khmer Cultural Development Institute in Kampot, a school teaching traditional music and dance to orphaned and disabled children.
We were also fortunate to work with Master Kong Nay, one of seventeen artists designated as intangible treasures by the Royal Government of Cambodia, for his lifetime devoted to the Chapei Dong Veng (long necked two string guitar). He wrote and recorded two characteristically witty, growly songs especially for this production, duets performed with Srey Channthy, with Kong Nay seen on screen.
Earlier this year, we were hosted in residency by Casula Powerhouse, and welcomed warmly by Khmer Community of NSW Inc and the Khmemara Angkor Dance & Traditional Music Group, who contributed much to the show you see tonight.
So this show spans Phnom Penh to Sydney, Kampot to Bonnyrigg, Prey Veng to the Moon! And all via Detroit. We hope you enjoy the show as much as we have enjoyed making it.
Curious? here’s some video highlights of “Cosmic Cambodia” performed on Jan 26, at the Famous Spiegeltent House of Mirrors
Still photos (above) by Gillian Docherty
Conceived by Julien Poulson & Channthy Kak
Director & Designer Carlos Gomes
Producer Harley Stumm (Intimate Spectacle)
Video & Animation Samuel James
Sound Design Mute Speaker (Rob O’Hara)
The Cambodian Space Project
Vocal Channthy Kak
Guitar Julien Poulson
Bass Bun Sophea
Drums Yus Sak
Dancers: The Spacettes Khen Vanthy, Khen Vanthurn
Chapei Dong Veng Master Kong Nay
Young Channthy (on film) Isabella Nagatsuka
Lighting Design & Production Mark Haslam
Sound Engineer Phil Downing
Master Kong Nay footage filmed by Marc Eberle
Songs composed by The Cambodian Space Project unless stated
Big Bang (composed by Mute Speaker)
Rom Rom Rom (Pan Ron)
Lullaby for Makara
Where I Go
Selling Diamonds on the Moon (Master Kong Nay)
Kosmic Karaoke KTV Theme Song (homage to Denis Coffey)
Longing for the Light Rain (Ros Sereysothea)
Space Flight, Doors Closing
Nightmare (TCSP with the musicians of KCDI)
Wash (Mute Speaker)
I told you space travel is not for the faint hearted (Master Kong Nay)
Sva Rom Monkey (Pan Ron)
House of the Rising Sun (Traditional, Khmer lyrics by Sinn Sisamouth)
Wait Ten Months (Ros Sereysothea)
Cosmic Cambodia was assisted by the Australian Government through the Australian Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and by Creative Partnerships Australia, through the Match: Crowdfunding for the Independent Arts Sector initiative. It was developed with the support of Khmer Cultural Development Institute in Kampot, Cambodia; Khmer Community of NSW Inc.; Casula Powerhouse, and Arts Centre Melbourne.