From the moment I met Channthy I began sharing my own record collection with her, first of all, handing her my headphones and a mix of Cambodian rock and then this communication of ours, through a love of music, was absolutely mutual. Channthy would respond to my music or ideas about music with her own suggestions and a big knowledge of Cambodian music, she owned little but had old phones just to store her songs plus a collection of tattered, handwritten songbooks. We had a very little language between us but a huge love of music and more so, a desire to seek out and discover more. The first year of forming the Cambodian Space Project was a tough one – on the one hand, things happened quickly and moved fast but this excitement was also tempered by the many problems Thy was facing – loan sharks, support for her terminally ill mother and a struggle to understand and keep up with some dramatic changes in life. Still, the Space Project took off and become more than just the two of us, more than just a band too, a small but rapidly expanding group of friends who were also equally compelled by the Big Adventure it seemed we might be on… a musical space odyssey for sure! Channthy’s mother died just over a year after the CSP formed but lived long enough to love seeing how her daughter took off. Channthy meant everything to her as she did to Thy and Pen Siem was her number one fan – wishing her to take advantage of opportunity and travel but also to sing with all of her heart and soul.
Channthy introduced me to the sounds of Laos, favorites from Thailand all the way through to songs from places like Indonesia, China and India that she recognised through songs made popular in Cambodia for their inclusion on movie soundtracks. In turn, I’d also play her the Cambodia Rocks compilation and other Khmer song compilations compiled by “Barangs” for labels such as Sublime Frequencies, Parallel World Records…Channthy was genuinely surprised by these releases and the interest by foreigners in Khmer music…she’d never heard of the Californian group Dengue Fever or for that matter any of the Western groups I would play her… at one point I was showing Thy and early Rolling Stones Clip… Mick strutting his stuff to Little Red Rooster… she instantly loved the song but also piped up when pointing at Jagger and asking “Bong…he lady boy?” Later Thy would hungrily seek out music and songs where ever we went. On early trips to Europe, we ended up at World Music festivals where Thy would come to understand, and indeed harness, her own exoticism but also back in Cambodia… our first trip to the mountain province Mondulkiri was some 9 years ago and is a memory and experience that is still so profound that it’s the reason I have recently returned to Bou’Sra Village to again, seek out our tribal musician friends and learn more about their culture and music.
Each time I visit Bou’Sra and the Bunong community (only 4 times over 10 years) I learn something new and as, one thing leads to another, I usually end up inviting the musicians – indigenous custodians of intangible living art – to events I’m also producing… the Bou’Sra Troupe at Kampot Readers & Writers Festival in 2016 was incredible… also very memorable for the team coming down from the mountains… none of them, including 93 yo tribal chief Lok Ta had ever seen the sea before… most of our audience had never seen or heard what the group presented either.
So, at this point in time, I’m working through the grief and loss of Channthy’s passing by looking back to many of the places we’d been before – and this is both conceptually and actually in our travels. It makes sense to me to keep going! (a favorite expression of Thy’s) but to do this with a vision and a hope to make beautiful new music – under a new name The CSP Mothership but also by aiming to create new sounds that draw from old influences… from the ancient sounds of the Bunong and Angkorian Khmer cultures through to the shimmering electric psychedelia of the Sixties, the British Invasion that also influenced Cambodian rock through to truly tripped out Californian sounds of the same era… at least this is my mood and under a new banner – being the CSP Mothership – I’m again going back to the start of the CSP and drawing from ideas and influences that have also been part of our conversation over the years.
Questions and Answers – starting again
I’m happy to say that I have received such tremendous support and assistance in firstly dealing with all the urgencies and matters to do with Channthy’s passing and also for the idea of beginning again musically. As many of you are aware, much urgent work has been required to raise funds and support for Channthy’s son’s future and I’m pleased to say the first step – of raising funds and establishing and legal and responsibly functioning Trust has been done. I also have the pleasure of being able to accompany Channthy’s 13-year-old Makara on his first trip to Australia where Makara spent 3 weeks in an Australia school and met many of his Mum’s friends and fans. Makara’s also a huge music fan – can recite all the lyrics to every song Channthy sung – and at one point during our recent travels, revealed to me that he thinks “Nang Ye Ye is awesome!” This is of course something that’s very important for me to hear…Nang Ye-ye’s CSP drummer Bong Sak’s daughter and is the first new vocalist to step into Channthy’s shoes. Just recently, all of us – the immediate CSP family and friends – gathered for the first CSP Mothership show in Phnom Penh. That same weekend, a couple of months ago, we had the kind help of Arky Arky who rounded us up for a quick rough’n’ready video shoot and the clip to Smoking Addict is the result – first of much to come.
I’ve also had the odd – and I gotta emphasise ODD comment too… things to do with Channthy, the CSP and starting again as the Mothership. Some of this has been very offensive but clearly comes from those odd haters out there… towards the end of her own life Channthy also had some borderline stalkers or at least problems with a few very obsessed people… it didn’t seem a serious matter to me at the time, maybe I wasn’t aware and still don’t really know about some things but I do see how some people will have very strong opinions about Channthy, CSP and the new groupings and releases that we plan to create as The Mothership. All I can say about this is that I am personally finding – after much grief – the act of seeking out and discovering new things through music to be an incredibly healing and welcome feeling. So it’s time for me to get busy again and to make new music that also brings together everything that’s gone before and moves again in a way that brings joy and happiness. It’s time to get The Mothership flying!
Strings lots of strings
Around the time I first came to Cambodia, back in 2017, I’d only been working sporadically with music and mostly recording music that was entirely instrumental. Music recorded with The Green Mist (from out of Tasmania but featuring members of Beasts of Bourbon and The Violent Femmes) was a project where I’d mostly use an acoustic guitar or other stringed instruments like my old faithful Irish Bouzouki (cittern) – this and a lap steel were the first instruments I turned up with in Cambodia… for the first two years of CSP my electric guitar was borrowed – a loaner caster – from someone I never actually met. This last decade I’ve somehow managed to accumulate many more instruments and now I’m planning to sell off a few to help finance new music but also to replace with ‘different sounds’ hopefully 12-electrics and back to the earthy cittern sounds.
Radio show The Asian Garage Underground
Another thing that has been surprisingly appealing and enjoyable to do right now is getting involved with Kampot Radio and the station’s producer Darryl Carter who has been very encouraging and supportive of the idea of hosting my radio show Asian Garage Underground. It’s a happening that’s made me realise a couple of big things… firstly, Asia’s not only HUGE but is so musically deep that I’ll probably never understand the full fathom of culture and song – from Yemen to Japan, Moscow to West Papua – and secondly, I’ve realised that the adventure of going ‘crate diggin’ for music is taking me on virtual travel across some wonderful new territory and discoveries. Of course, I’m totally amateur when I comes to this new venture into radio but hey! it’s a hell of a lot of fun and will be good for influencing my own music writing and playing styles.
As far as The Mothership goes, my influence is still staying regional… diggin the Khmer Leur Songs or Khmer Surin sounds of the region. At KAMA in Kampot my choice for music programming in our little art bar/cafe has been Sublime Frequencies releases of Thai Molam, Thai Shadow Music and other releases such as Paradise Bangkok stuff on Soundways. There’s another wonderful Youtube compile of Laotion cassette tapes and it’s these kinds of regional sounds and songs that I’m drawing inspiration from for the challenge of recording a full-length debut for CSP Mothership.
Of course, I imagine the recording The Mothership is about to make will end up something else, not sounding like the folksy influences I’ve described but a new incarnation of all that and the lived experience of each of us – the musicians involved in making our new sounds. At the end of this month, I’m booked to fly out from Cambodia to London where I’m again, recordign with CSP London players David Eugene Webb (drums) and Brian “Tolly” Tolworthy on bass. This session will be tracked at the same place we’ve also begun – at aptly named Space Eko – and then taken back to Cambodia where the rest of our musicians might add their own sounds to bed tracks recorded in London – bring on the adventure! and let’s soon see what it all sounds like.
Khmer Leur Songs -ប្រជុំបទខ្មែរលើ (Mondolkiri)
Blind Nyel Che and Sang Bro
Listen to a full album of songs by Nyel Che here
Asian Garage Underground podcast
This idea of doing a radio show is very new to me but something I’m keen to work it up and present weekly – though not this week as internets down at Kampot Radio. Damn! I’d just compiled a pretty cool programme focussed on Turkish music, mostly Anatolian rock through to some present day happenings including We’re Loud Festival – happening this weekend in Istanbul. Anyway, it looks like the Asian Garage Underground’s going to work best as a podcast and as soon as I get that figured out, you’ll be able to catch the show here on our website too.
Speaking of Istanbul, it was one of the biggest regrets of all the traveling and touring I did with Channthy and CSP. I think it was summer of 2012 when we’d just finished a great time visiting the UK where we’d performed both as The Cambodian Space Project and had also teamed up with musicians from across Asia and the UK to perform at BT River of Music Festival at The Bamboo Pearl Orchestra – a brilliant experience that still resonates now – then Thy and I travelled onto to Venice, Italy, where we spent some holiday time before setting off for Turkey. We bid farewell to friends in Italy and boarded our flight to Istanbul, nearing landing Channthy was super excited by the view, looking out the plane’s window, of the mindblowing appearance of themassive city below. But alas, upon arrival we discovered a terrible mistake, Channthy did not have a visa for Turkey and was immediately deported and quickly marched off to the first return flight to Venice where she was met by immigration police who appeared plane-side upon her return. It was such a stupid mistake on my part, not having the visa checked properly and the only consolation for Thy in missing the opportunity to see Istanbul was the fact we have some great friends back in Italy who were able to meet her and really look after her for an extended stay in Italy.
Lao Folk Songs (Cassette 1996)
Sounds from the Mountains – The Bunong of Bou’Sra
One place you certainly don’t need a visa to get to is Bou’Sra village in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. I’ve just recently spent a week in Bou’Sra, catching up with the Bou’Sra Arts & Culture Troupe and others within this indigenous minority hill tribe community. I’ve been in touch and have worked with the group over many years now – CSP team first visited back in 2010 at the behest of filmmaker Marc Eberle who later featured a few scenes showing this ‘culture clash’ in his Cambodian Space Project documentary. Needless to say, it’s fascinating and inspiring to meet and work with the group at Bou’Sra and it’s long been on my mind to do more.
Part of the upcoming recording work I’m doing will hopefully be a converge of sounds and cultures – with my CSP Mothership rhythm section recording bed tracks in London with a view that we might be able to return to the mountains – sometime next year – and record the voices and the instruments of the troupe in Bou’Sra to merge together as something altogether new… of course, this is some ambitious thinking ahead and there’s plenty of logistics and plans to be made before I all happens but I can imagine the resulting music and most certainly, the story of bringing these sounds and cultures together, could be very cool and meaningful at a time when this story – the vanishing culture of the indigenous minorities – should be told and could certainly be told through music and art. So, stay tuned, I’ll be blogging more project as it unfolds.
Coming Up Next
This Saturday night in Phnom Penh I’ll be at the newly opened LF (Living Fields) Social Club to bring to the stage the CSP MOTHERSHIP.
The CSP Mothership by the Space Project family brings more awesomeness to the incredible revival of raw, wild, gritty, Cambodian rock’n’roll in a tribute to the life and legacy of Kak Channthy. The band reunites for one special show before Xmas is upon us and introduces Nang Ye-ye on lead vocals. Nang is the daughter of CSP drummer Bong Sak and steps into the fold with this blistering track “Smoking Addict” and her own powerful – smoking! – Khmer Rock’n’Soul vocal style – check this out
Womex Festival presents Cambodian Space Project film
Right after this Saturday night’s live show with The Mothership here in Phnom Penh, I’ll be throwing clothes, sketchbooks, laptop, and other bare essentials into my suitcase and setting off for London. It’s a trip I’ve been looking forward to and also a mission to keep tracking new music ideas as we slowly assemble the sounds of The Mothership. The recording session in London will be my second at the aptly named Space Eko East Recording studios and will also be a chance to try some new ideas and guitar sounds… I’ve been loving a lot of new groups such as Altin Gun (visiting Turkish psych) and the fabulously dream Khruangbin (melodic Thai folk flavors) and while the continuation of the ideas Channthy and I pursued at the Space Project is still the focus of our CSP Mothership, this new session and changes in my own life will no doubt lead to a different and new kind of music. As I mentioned earlier, I hope it’s going to be something that will merge with lots of different voices and musicians along the way but still be based here in Cambodia where it all began.
Khean Player in London?
I’ve got a few leads I’ve nothing in place yet in terms of finding a Khean player for our Mothership recording sessions so if by chance you’re reading this blog and have a contact or and idea about this then please get in touch <thecambodianspaceproject(at)gmail.com>