Well you guessed it, we’re back in Phnom Penh and getting set for presenting Past // Present // Future: A Cinematic Expo of Cambodian Rock this Saturday night at the city’s most spectacular rooftop bar – The Perch. This is a great ‘perch’ to celebrate the sounds of Cambodia and at 32 floors above ground level, it really illustrates the phenomenal changes happening not just in Phnom Penh but across the whole region. Our event will also illustrate this, it’s a continuation of the recent talk/music/video show I presented at ACMI and at Star Bar in Siem Reap and through music, shows a number of periods of massive culture shifts in Cambodia but also the resilience of everyday Cambodian people to embrace change and, just like the Mekong, go with with flow as the once quaint, low-rise city goes full Blade Runner.
Well, Sci-Fi suits the Space Project but I can’t help think back to earlier shows where Channthy’s voice would be echoing out into the night skies and how these shows, and this music took us to new heights and lofty places. This weekend marks 5 years since we lost Channthy but also new beginnings including new live shows, exciting collaborations and welcoming new band members into the CSP family. I’m sure there’ll be more than a few moments ahead that will feel like a crew meeting on the flight deck of Star Trek. There are many (like me) that feel the city has lost some of it’s charm and soul in recent years but there’s no denying that this shape-shifting city doesn’t deliver! we’re all reaching for the skies and this certainly applies to the CSP 2023. This week we also welcome Khmer Australian chanteuse Thyda Chea back to Srok Khmer and can’t wait to pick up on CSP’s first return to the recording studio and live stage.
Saturday night’s event at The Perch brings Channthy’s remarkable legacy to the fore and it’s something we’ll be celebrating through the wonderful collection of videos and recordings she’s gifted the world. In Khmer Buddhism it is believed that a person is continually reborn, in human or nonhuman form, depending on his or her actions in a previous life. Channthy believe this and felt this in her own performances of the Golden Voice singers she loved, not least Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea. Past // Present // Future is an event that through Cambodian music history and the lives of so many amazing singers and musicians, this life continuum shines through. It’s a great occasion to reflect of this, share some thoughts and wrap up with a super-groovy VJ set of the music that has made Phnom Penh such a great rock’n’roll city.
Let’s Go Record Shopping in Cambodia
Looking out across Phnom Penh city from The Perch is more than just a little bit mind-blowing, especially if like me, you can remember the city’s skyline from the time when there was just one tall building, the Canadia Bank (also a rooftop venue CSP played). Nostalgic feeling for days gone by remain strong but there’s nothing like a record play and a new slice of vinyl to remedy this. Chan Rean and her Retro Shop will be on hand for those who love their music served on vinyl, cool collectibles and handprinted poster artwork.
Prepare for lift-off! Thyda joins the CSP in Cambodia
It’s been such a great feeling to return to live shows with The Cambodian Space Project. This has all happened in a pretty spectacular way, first off with The Rat Catcher of Angkor Wat – a brilliant collaboration with Melbourne’s A Blanck Canvas creature design and puppeteer studios. The Rat Catcher project saw the core of the live band, me, Bong Sak and Phea Bass, hunkering down at our studio on Fish Island to jam and write music for a soundtrack to this fantastic funk opera. This is the basis of forthcoming album “The Golden Phoenix”. Our jam sessions were recording by The Music Nomad on a little Zoom recorder and we soon picked out tunes for a live-set, packed our bags and flew to Melbourne where these music ideas set loose on stage with the puppets from The Ratcatcher at the studio/performance space at Seaworks in Williamstown. A very trippy launching pad indeed! Vocal samples were added into the mix and voila! a new CSP 2023 took shape but it soon became apparent that we were all missing the vocals of Kak Channthy and that this would be an entirely new journey. Next up we added Jack Howard’s Epic Brass horn section and took the whole shebang even further into new frontiers. Soon we were able to get back into the studios and with thanks from RMIT and Creative Victoria traks for The Golden Phoenix came to life on tape.
But still no vocals – largely instrumental soundtrack pieces for imagined scenes 70’s Kung Fu movie style. Then that all changed. I friend in Adelaide, where the Rat Catcher would make it’s premiere, introduced us to Khmer Australian singer Thyda Chea and will very little notice and no time to rehearse, Thyda was soon on stage and fronting the CSP in a spectacular way, belting out Cambodian Golden Era classics from the back of a truck!
So, who is The Bongolian?
The Bongolian is the alter ego of Nasser Bouzida, front man of cult Hammond heroes Big Boss Man. Nasser’s work is incredible, very hip, very pop, very funky, and very fun! A great match for The Cambodian Space Project? Well that’s what I reckon and so here begins an exciting new twist with the CSP and the aptly named Bongolian (everyone’s either a Bong or an Oun in Cambodia). We’re working towards edits by The Bongolian for CSP’s Golden Phoenix, here’s a tasty teaser with Nasser laying some groovy hammond down on one of the more laid back tracks on the new album, this is song written in the middle of a tropical deluge bucketing down outside the studio and is titled Fish Island Rain. Check out all of The Bongolian here.
Building FICAC’s Media Arts School, Recording Studio and Reading Room in the Cambodian countryside
It’s been a blessing for the CSP to be working with audio students at staff at RMIT Media Arts. The RMIT recording studios are high quality and so is the talent that this institute turns out. We’re growing our working relationship into an ongoing exchange and are working towards creating opportunities for media students to visit and work in Australian while at the same time sending Cambodian projects into the hands of the talent pool at RMIT Screen and Sound departments. We’re aiming to see the first group of RMIT students working with us at FICAC in 2024 but in the meantime, will continue to share media and production ideas for music rockumentary Land of 1000 Dances. This is a film project that is growing out of our efforts to build and launch our own small Media Arts school at Fish Island Community Arts Centre.
This month and next we’ll be sharing a lot more about FICAC’s campaign to build and fully equip our new media arts studio. There will be a crowdfunding site launched as well as a number of public events including concerts by The Cambodian Space Project to help drive this excellent mission ahead. Building capacity and promoting digital literacy makes real impact and a great contribution to the fast changing demographics of Cambodia and its youthful population. Besides this, the projects are fun and exciting and great for all to be involved in.
Cambodian Space Project dates in Cambodia
Sat 25 Cambodian Space Project, Fish Island Community Arts Centre, Kampot
Fri 31 Cambodian Space Project, Garage Fest, Villa Grange
Sat 01 Cambodian Space Project, Garage Fest, Villa Grange
Fri 07 Cambodian Space Project, Siem Reap, Venue to be announced