Day 20 of 100 days: writing on flying through Space and Time with Kak Channthy and The Cambodian Space Project

As some of you are aware, I’ve made a commitment to write (for 100 days) to reflect upon Channthy and the extraordinary time we spent together as The Cambodian Space Project. This is also for the practical purpose of drawing your attention to my own campaign to fundraise and support Channthy’s young family via Kak Channthy Memorial Fund and to ensure her legacy will be respected and understood and will continue to bring great things through music, art and culture, especially towards the values Channthy stood for – Giving a voice to the voiceless –

Equality, Freedom, Justice, Dignity, Education, Environment, Women, Rural Poor, Human Rights.

Having now reached the time of Channthy’s 100 Days and the passing of her spirit, in accordance with Theravada buddhist beliefs, I feel I have some space to reflect upon all that has happened since Channthy’s death. It’s also a time to take stock on what has been done and can still be done to make sure that future steps are positive and well-considered – this requires some management and sharing of responsibilities within my own core group of friends and family as well as the extended CSP community and I can already see that this is not as straightforward as it could be. Fact is, rock’n’roll bands and… like Kak Channthy herself, attract a vibrant and diverse following, and connect with many individuals, with many thoughts and ideas, and more significantly – emotions – raw emotions.

Channthy’s death has been a great shock and while it’s comforting to know Thy had many friends who have rallied around to support in various ways, who have acted quickly to help, it’s also apparent that this can’t last forever, as time goes on, we’ll find it harder to rally everyone who has responded upon news of her death. Perhaps, as her ex-husband, this means that I am also just one of the individuals working hard to support and find a way forward – not only for Channthy’s family but also for the important cultural legacy she has made and also for my own community of musicians – our group The Cambodian Space Project and its individual musicians has decided to carry on as The Mothership, I believe Channthy would have very much liked this idea and would have wanted us to do this. However, I’m also aware that plenty of people will have different ideas on ‘how’ ‘what’ should be done at this time. Recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of some outright nasty criticism that I can only understand as selfish and distasteful but this is also understandable too. I mean just think about raw Human Emotions and why we continue to read in tabloid news outrageous stories of fights and fall-outs at weddings and funerals; these life-events are usually full of love and reflection but can also descent into chaos. In terms of my own plans for the future ahead, well, it’s simple. I’m sticking to a small group of friends and family to ensure that the efforts and ideas already in train and effective and can be managed over the long term. At this stage, ideas are still forming and the matter is private though I hope to write more about everything in the future as I believe it’s a story to tell and I hope that one day others, not least Channthy’s 13 year old son Makara, will grow up with the ability to read and learn about our time with Channthy and our Cambodian Space Project.

These last three months have also been unexpectedly busy and all previous plans and commitments – postponed or derailed. It’s also been a terrible time but one that has brought me some wonderful new opportunities – such as screening the short film Mark Roy and I made about a Cambodian singer at Cannes. When I received the call that this film Flicker & Fade had been selected I was still embracing two friends who’d come to offer condolences and we were crying our eyes out and unable to even listen to Channthy’s voice at that moment. However, later I made it to the ‘world premiere’ at Cannes and was suddenly experiencing perhaps the most profoundly moving musical moment of my life – hearing a few seconds Channthy’s voice booming from the speakers at Cinema Olympia and making our little film become all the more incredible for it’s timing and subject. I also felt guilty…. Why should I be so lucky? To be still here, to be jet-setting (cough) to Cannes and all that… and perhaps others would see me taking this happy opportunity too soon… or other such things have have been happening – opening parties at art galleries, fun times and rock’n’roll concerts, catching up and enjoying the company of friends… writing and reflecting upon Channthy…. I’m not sure, I do know my own life often plays out in public view as did Channthy’s life and story. I often felt that this story would be twisted and distorted along the way… Chinese whispers to all out rumor mongering to nonchalance and indifference… either way ‘all publicity is good publicity’ doesn’t apply here, however, I’m still here dealing with the community that Channthy and I respectively brought together as CSP and am dealing with all thoughts and ideas but for better or worse, sticking to the course ahead. This means – NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS – I am striving to work with my CSP musicians, to perform, to create art that is informed by the vision Channthy and I often shared. At the same time, I’m on getting odd bits of feedback – mostly to do with other’s feelings on Channthy and what should or shouldn’t happen… it’s annoying to say the least but things will work out over time and I know my own commitment to ensure it’s all good over the long road ahead.  Having a way forward helps keep my musicians (people Channthy and I love and have known a longtime) engaged and employed and for all of us to stick to what we’re already doing and work to support those that need our help, love and friendship.

In the last week alone, I’ve had an exhausting but extremely fulfilling schedule, this has included returning to Siem Reap to do a number of things in tribute to Channty. First to bring my band members back into the studio as the CSP Mothership, as well as, to opening an exhibition of paintings – works inspired by my journey with Channthy – and to put on a live gig – a rowdy rawkus night of rock’n’roll with support acts Little Squirrel and also The Batbangers – who moved me to tears by covering 3 of Channthy’s songs. It’s been intense, hot humid weather, not much sleep, good things happening then, of course, THE most important event in my own busy life right now – returning to Channthy’s village in Prey Veng to be with family and friends and attend her 100 Days Ceremony. Just the road travel – many of us packed into share taxi or minibuses (often broken aircon) bouncing along the dusty highways and off onto potholed and slippery muddy roads… As per Cambodian Space Project custom, we’ve all managed to do the round trip and make it back to Phnom Penh but this time, without Channthy and this time the city doesn’t have the same resonance or meaning for me. I’m here simply to ensure that our next steps are in place and will be the right-move towards building a better future that includes all who have been so integral to Channthy’s and my own life over these past extraordinary nine years.

Personally, getting back to work – to doing the things I know and love best – has been comforting and helps to keep focus. I’m thrilled with the response to our film Flicker & Fade and will continue to work towards shaping this into a feature film in tribute to Channthy’s life, music and Cambodia. Watch this space for news on a film (originally intended as a musical featuring Channthy) we’re calling Yesterday, Once More. I’ve also really enjoyed getting back to my life in Kampot, my painting studio and of course my darling partner Kek Soon who has given me so much love and support during this time despite the fact that this is extremely difficult for her too – Soon’s being wooed by a new career in Hong Kong and I may also find myself living back in HK too but like everything right now, our lives are up-in-the-air.

This week ahead is shaping up as a time for myself and members of CSP to be together in a way that we can enjoy, love and laugh about our shared memories with Channthy and our Cambodian Space Project. On Thursday night we’ll be joined by many guest musicians and will come together to perform as The CSP Mothership – fronted by drummer Bong Sak’s daughter Samnang Ye Ye and back to Street 278 – with a show at Duplex – right next door to the legendary now defunct Equinox venue and on the same street that Channthy and I first moved in together at a happier time shortly after we’d gotten married (in a fever). It’ll surely be a fantastic night and we will feel Channthy’s spirit shining down upon us all as one heck of a sound emanates back out into the night air.

It’s been a time of reflecting on life but also on the music and art Channthy and I loved and shared – of covering old songs, surfing the waves of an astonishing cultural revival, touring the world and crossing into new communities with our own astounding phenomena The CSP. How recent events, especially following Thy’s death, have had much to do with concepts of birth, death and rebirth and how… Just few days ago, I stood by Channthy’s grave with a small group of loving friends and understood that the older I get, the less I know, the less likely I am to conclude anything but I do know that we are all but memories of memories who will become memories of memories.

Channthy’s memories will be with me for as long as I live and her music will live on forever.

Please take a moment to visit Kak Channthy Memorial Fund and help me to support the young family Channthy leaves behind.