On this day, two years ago, we lost Channthy to an utterly senseless road accident in Phnom Penh
I can still hear her voice, not her singing voice but her speaking voice, and when speaking to me, Channthy could be cheeky, witty, joyous and just too funny or at other times, snappy and firey but always animated and very much alive! There’s also another voice I hear, and this is more to do with the spiritual and soulful connection I have always felt with Channthy, it’s something that I felt spoke to me even when we were silent but together…to me Channthy embodied everything beautiful and tragic about Cambodia… a place of great spirit, stunning, golden beauty coming all at once with the other extremity of horror, base brutality, and unfathomable darkness. Channthy embodied this but she also lived this and today, looking back… I feel as though her life was like shooting star and during our journey together, full of love, joy, playfulness and a celebration of life itself… at least on stage! and off stage, well… sometimes venturing upon sitcom but always something good to look forward to… Right now I can hear Channthy’s voice over the phone “hey Bong… how are you? have you got something for me? some story for me today?” and that’s how things often were… riding our space ship, waiting for another episode in our story.
The fragility of life
Two years ago I woke to the news I can hardly find words to describe, a phone telling me “Channthy is dead”. It is a moment in time that will resonate through the rest of my life, not just shock and devastation but totally inexplicable. Writing about this today, two years on, is still difficult but is made stranger by the fact we’ve just entered another extremity, COVID-19. I’m in day 5 of self-quarantine and am also in limbo, I’m now aware that I can’t return to Tasmania (my island home) or Fish Island and my home in Cambodia. Darwin is not such a bad place to be grounded during this time of global pandemic and it’s also a place Channthy and I love to visit, many fond memories here and right now my mind is flashing back to a time we were gigging and visiting family here but learned of another profoundly affecting death, the news of the passing of Norodom Sihanouk, last of the Cambodian God-Kings and perhaps the man responsible for the astonishing rock’n’roll scene of Cambodia’s golden era and our own playlist, music that brought Channthy and I together and swept us upon an incredible journey as co-pilots of the CSP.
The phone call and shock of Channthy’s death brought me more grief and loss than I could ever imagine dealing with. I’d dealt with losing loved ones before, the death of my own father prompted my move to Cambodia, but this was something else. Channthy had become represented something much more than her down-to-earth, regular person, but in death, she immediately became a figure of beauty and tragedy, a symbol of survival, endurance, and the fragile beauty of life.
Keeping up hope!
I am still unraveling and processing so many things that I have learned to live with and to overcome these last two years. Recently, a friend wrote to me, concerned that I was still ‘too wrapped up in Channthy’s death’ and suggested that it might be better for me to move on. I thought about this and kind of agreed but at the same time, it’s now just how it is. I’ll always be marking occasions of memorial for Channthy but at the same time have dealt with the grief and loss by celebrating Channthy’s life, and feeling that she has left us a great gift, a radiating example of all the joy and beauty of human expression. I recall thinking this on the day Channthy died… I was riding a taxi from Kampot to Phnom Penh, I already knew that there would be much to deal with but that I’d been left a great gift, a gift to the world, Channthy’s life, her legacy, and her music.
Work hasn’t slowed down, in 2018 the CSP had bookings two years in advance and one event, an April 1 show at the Foreign Correspondents Club would have been a regular CSP night in Phnom Penh but instead became Channthy’s wake. Since March 20, 2018, I’ve continued to work with our musicians, our Cambodian band and our musicians who are based abroad in the UK and in Australia. I’ve also finally come to the decision to keep working as “The Cambodian Space Project” and to finish unfinished business but also to pick-up on creative ideas and work that Channthy and I had ventured upon, some of this includes song ideas, new work for music theatre and a book that I’d already sketched out and talked through with Channthy before she died. So, this new and uncertain world that we’re all entering does give me time for writing and much time for reflection, over the coming months I’ll work more on our rock’n’roll memoir Sublime Frequencies: Births, Deaths & Marriages Aboard The Cambodian Space Project.
The Sound of Silence
Writing this post today comes at a time of confusion and, perhaps like most of us, I’m totally distracted and caught up in the almost hourly changes and updates on news and impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. As an artist, I’m quite used to things like self-isolation but want to use this time as thoughtfully and effectively as possible, I’m already working on creating music through the digisphere with our singers, studios and musicians everywhere and also looking to produce more radio and podcasting work – after all, there’s nothing like music, radio and a good conversation between friends, like an old fashioned phone call… to overcome the downside of isolation. Channthy would have dealt with this with her usual sense of humour and humanity and the fact that her legacy has already inspired and influenced much new work and some wonderfully talented and emerging voices in Cambodian and beyond, means that I’ll still be carrying this torch, the life of a siren singer whose voice reaches and resonates to this day and shines through times of darkness. There will be some technical challenges but other this coming year, I’ll be working with our Cambodian Women of Song team – principally co-producer Sam Dara to recording and bring you new music and songs that can inspire us and carry forth the life and spirit of Kak Channthy.
Never Fall Down
Across The Waves in the time of COVID-19.
Today, we all know that our world and the lives we are living have now changed permanently. A crisis on this scale will reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse. Personally, I have already spent the last two years living through and overcoming grief and loss and for this reason, I feel I am able to take on anything but I also know that many will suffer and experience all the heartbreak and loss of losing loved ones, as well as experiencing the emotional hardship of being unexpectedly separated from family members and colleagues.
Times will be tough but it’s not all bad news, the global pandemic has also sparked the goodness in humanity. Both here and abroad there’s been an outpouring of kindness, generosity and community spirit and artists are doing what they do best, inspiring us with hope and creativity.
With this in mind, I’ll be working even more on connecting to the world outside (I’m in self-quarantine) our rooms, and setting up to podcast more music, more stories and more goodness that is and always will be, inspired by my precious memories and life lived to the full, through the ups and downs of life on the road, with Kak Channnthy – our Cambodian heroine.
A Hard Road Ahead
I’m also thinking of this coming year and the impact it will have on friends and family living in Cambodia where there really is no support network or resources to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, not least, my concern is for the well-being of Channthy’s own family. I’m making a note here to let you know that we have a legally registered trust fund operating for the support of Channthy’s only child, Kak Makara. Makara, who is now old enough to read and understand this post, also will need strength and resilience – which has in bucket loads – to get through this time and we will all need to work harder to find the financial means to deal with rapidly rising prices and potential shortages everywhere but especially affecting families in Cambodia. You can still make a contribution to our ongoing support for Channthy’s family at this link: