Day 7 of 100 days: writing on flying through Space and Time with Kak Channthy and The Cambodian Space Project

We’d just received the release ready masters for our first album – ten tracks – 9 loose interpretations of old songs, 1 fabulous new track – Have Visa No Have Rice. But what to name this work? what would the cover look like? Everyone involved in the CSP at that time, chimed in with suggestions including Thy who spoke little English but came up with a very evocative suggestion – Space Tiger!

“Space Tiger Bong… I think this would be good!”. In the end we opted for 2011: A Space Odyssey as indeed it was but I never forget Thy’s suggestion – space tiger – and would always ask her first for ideas for titles, songs, and imagery… sometimes this would produce unusual titles like Not Easy Rock’n’Roll – our second LP – but this was special! this is who Channthy was and how she liked to present… “I like crazy colours bong…. I don’t like black”.

Just after returning to Phnom Penh – a lonely and sad place – after Thy’s 7 days funeral… I was riding down Sihanouk in a Tuk Tuk and a passing trailer caught my eye… if i’d had my camera I would have snapped the fabulously kitsch looking sculpture of a giant Tiger riding through the city… Space Tiger! indeed. Later that week I saw the same tiger again, it’d been placed out the front as the mascot of a ‘lady bar’ called Tiger Bar.

Thy and I could not speak each others language when we met but almost immediately we were falling in love, and part of this was because of the joy of communicating and sharing ideas through our mutual love of music and the vibrant graphic imagery we used to colour and shape our own world. This was funny and fun! but there were a few cross culture stumbling blocks… the Monty Pythonesque silkscreen of Thy’s irrepressibly cheeky-tongue-out face on a Khmer temple drew criticisms – “Khmer don’t do like that” – as well as lots of orders for the final silk-screened print – “Oh…I gotta have that one!”.

The album cover we eventually ran with for our debut 2011: A Space Odyssey featured an image from a local painter, a typical but especially beautifully painted illustration of Srey Macha & Hanuman – Thy would tell me all about her understanding of these characters, I recall a conversation about Srey Macha and Hanuman in Kep, at time when we first visited the coastal resort and to time to visit the township’s sculptures and monument – not least the Giant Crab for a now iconic group photoshoot. The cover art for our debut also drew “Oohs and aahs’ and positive and negative reviews such as these comments on Amazon:

Critic 1
Okay, just to clarify, the cover picture of this album does not show Khmer characteristic at all. This looks more like pornography. I hope you can change this. Whoever you are. Just for the good of all the Khmer people out there. They don’t want to be seen like from this picture.
Appreciate your artwork. But recommend you change.Thanks.
Reply 1
I have seen a lot of pictures of Cambodian art, mainly statues, many of which feature topless women. This cover doesn’t look materially different from many of those.
Reply 2
You’re worried more about the cover art than the actual content?
Sometimes Thy herself would draw similar criticism…usually whispers behind her back and often from the social sector that should know better but Cambodian women….if seen to be too spirited, too independent or bold… face an often conservative and patriarchal society… “Khmer lady do not do like that” etc etc. We talked a lot about this but stayed to our own course regardless of what others thought – after all the feedback was mostly excellent! and inspired us to think and communicate more and more in our own special little pop art, rock’n’roll language.
Thy and I saw each other in the White Monkey & Mermaid image… the image of these characters from the Reamker – the Khmer version of the Ramayana is a power one with many levels of meaning. I think both Thy and I loved the unlikely love story of this beauty and beast.
In the early days of our relationship, Thy would often look at me busily working on my laptop… and remark “Monkey very clever…clever for writing eh?” We were always scripting our own time together in a kind of magic realism, a dream, but of course, things were not as fairy tale and simple as they seemed. Thy would also complain about my lack of attention and obsessive “work too much” on computer and in hindsight, things could have been different but we fashioned a world – a public persona as well as a deeply private and personal language through our love of music, stories and pictures. At one point, we’d just returned from a trip to Thy’s village where we’d been able to take a projector and a selection of movies – the vintage Norodom Sihanouk movies and film footage of Cambodia 1965 went down really well, when we were back in PP watching movies, Thy told me that next time we go to the province that we should bring 2 movies – “Monkey talking movie” meaning Planet of The Apes plus another all time classic The Blues Brothers… “this would be good Bong”.
After a while we set-up a little screen print studio called Sticky Fingers Art Prints Cambodia and at first this was simply to print some saleable and collectible CSP posters. Thy opened a short-lived but super funky little shop with music and pop art posters in the Golden Sorya Mall… for a moment this was okay but the Mall fast became uglier and uglier… when finally a shooting happened – Murder/suicide – right across from her little shop, we packed up and gave up on the idea. Some of the stock is still available and more valuable than ever at Channthy’s shop Channthy Cha Cha at 108 Russian Market… go there… buy something! sales still support her family and will help to re-establish and open the Memorial Gallery Channthy deserves.
All sorts of people would soon respond to and come to join our world of words, art and song. One afternoon I was lounging around our home waiting for Channthy to return from the market… she came back in with a little story on what had happened… “Bong… when I go market… some Foreigner calling something to me…” “Huh? what… can you tell me what they said” “Two people…on other side of road…see me and say ‘Hey Space Project… Awesome!” “Oh…that’s funny… that means they like you… ” “Cambodian Space Project is name of our band right? and Awesome means really good… they like you”. “Yes…Bong… they know me!”. Around this time I tried to tell Thy that she would become ‘known’ and that if she kept being so ‘awesome’ then all sorts of people would come to her, that she needed to also understand and be careful about this… “If you become more famous then you will meet many people who will love you but not always in a good way…” I believe this was true and became part of Thy’s life and dilemma.
Other artists began to respond and to create work based on the CSP concept – illustrations or graphic design, sometimes text and sometimes film. Often this was through collaboration but our own world become open to interpretation… I hilarious moment was turning up to a festival in Jakarta and seeing a few of the audience members waving about hand drawn, cartoonish illustrations of Thy the CSP… a really special piece is the brilliant illustration of Channthy riding her ‘space tuk tuk’.
Illustrator Marty Schneider got in touch with a concept and this is what we discussed – from concept to final album #2 cover for Not Easy Rock’n’Roll

Hi Julien,

Yeah sure don’t sweat the $$$$ i’ll do it as a portfolio piece or something. It’s a crazy time of year for me with heavy workloads so I can’t gaurantee I’ll get it done by january. 

I could maybe do something more simple for January but my idea is similar to flying Kombi on my website but with the band flying through space on an overloaded motocycle with your singer sitting on top twirling an umbrella similar to your photos in the press kit. But I’ll just have to see how my time is.

I didn’t realise you have to pull the guitar apart to ship it, ouch. Let me know if you can bring it because I’m really keen on it.


hi Marty,That’s awesome re: doing a poster as a folio piece, I could give it to
te screen print guys i’m supporting in Cambodia to print the finished
one if it works like that.
Love the sketch, lots of our songs are about going to the moon, Srey
Thy see’s herself as the white monkey, hanuman or tour leader taking
lots of animals/the band to see the moon, baboons, elephants, tigers
etc etc.
She sometimes wears the pointy Apsara hat too.
cheers, Julien
Marty’s album cover was just brilliant! Channthy and I loved this as did our audience and as we got busier and busier, touring really id resemble this crazy space tuk tuk image – a load of old band equipment stacked together with a magical assortment of touring party – Chicken, Monkey, Kangaroo, Elephant, Tiger and of course, cosmic space Apsara – Channthy. Soon we’d have animators, film and theatre designers get onboard to build upon and extend this vibrant imagery by adding their own special take on our world of CSP.
When I first met Channthy she had 2 old phones loaded full of her favourite songs. Music was her solace. She also had well-worn, faded and dog-eared pages full of song lyrics and this was a collection of material – precious lyrics – she’d carried about for years before we met. Then at the start of our relationship, I’d create the pictures and she’d supply the song… as well as all the visual imagery that came to mind while listening and experiencing her own world of song. I’d also swap my favourite tunes or one’s I thought she’d like and overtime she developed a ravenous appetite for seeking out and discovering songs from around the world – whether it be Ester Phillips “Try Me” or some kind of unknown Mexican Garage… Thy’s life was music (though there were a couple of bad years… when this was not the case but more on this later). Just before she passed away, Thy called me in Phnom Penh…. “Bong…. I’ve got a new MP3 Player…guy buy for me… I want you to put on my favourite songs from you…. you know… the same ones you did before…can I come over and see you tonight?” “Sure, I’ll do that”. Thy called in at the Villa Grange – a place that’s become a home away from home and I started copying tracks that I had with me. “Is it copied yet?” “Sorry Oun, it’s going to take 34 mins” “Okay… I gotta go, can you leave with reception and I’ll pick it up tomorrow… Please, don’t forget”. So Thy took off into the night and minutes later copying was complete. I got a call the next day “Bong…you copy favourite songs for me?” “Yes, Oun…all done”. “Oh…thank you Bong, how many songs did you put?”, “Oh, I don’t know Oun…maybe 1000”. “1000! Is that all? Bong I want everything… “. Thy was a great collector of music and would guide me through her favorites.
So, today, I’m writing here to share my thoughts while thinking of my life with Channthy. It’s something I feel I’d like to do for a period of 100 days in memorial of our time together. Already, I can see that she has left me and all who have connected to The Cambodian Space Project – a phenomenal archive of sounds and images and of course, all the memories behind the creation of all this. I feel blessed because of this.

Writing Day 6 – is going to wind up here… but I do want to tell you – and to thank my gallery in Siem Reap – that I recently felt the need to go back to Siem Reap and hang out with my dear friends – especially the crew at One Eleven Gallery where Thy and I had our last night together in Siem Reap. It was a trip for CSP shows but I’d scheduled a pop-up exhibition of my latest paintings – a series called Spaced-Out in Wonderland and had given the gallery just 2 days notice “Hey… I know this is VERY short notice but I’m back in the Reap for some shows and I’d love to hang a few paintings while we’re there…can you do it?

Danny, Jessica, Eiming and Robina, all agreed to make it happen and a loaded up the band van with 6 paintings… On the opening night, Thy and I arrived to find a really nice gathering of people already assembled… we spun our music and clinked classes of nice red wine together… after a while… I made a spontaneous little speech “thank you everyone… this series is really all about me and Channthy…. it’s called Spaced-Out in Wonderland… and here… in cosmic Cambodia… I’m sure we’ve all been a bit spaced-out in the Kingdom of Wonder… over here, the painting my beautiful co-pilot is standing next to… the one to Channthy’s right…. well, that’s us… that’s our lives together… “
Channthy beamed with pride and happiness and I felt this too… how wonderful that we had this to show and communicate to everyone else in the room… we felt happy and loved… downed a few more glasses and tuk tukked off into the night… life felt dreamy and magical and whats more, a few paintings sold and that’d keep the CSP flying! Next, I will paint ‘our story’ as a children’s book in Khmer and English.
– Julien
Reminder: I am committed to writing here to draw your attention to our ongoing campaign to raise funds to support Channthy’s young family through the Kak Channthy Memorial Fund
Please take a moment to view the campaign and consider the work that needs to be done.  There’s a long road ahead but Channthy’s son Makara becomes heir of his mother’s brilliant legacy and needs all the support we can give him to have a bright and brilliant future!