Building the Black Ark of Cambodia and dancing towards a brighter future!
It’s always a nice surprise to wake up and hear that somebody, somewhere has shared something really cool about our work in Cambodia or has at least there has been some kinda really cool connection made. Kind of like transmitting out our message through music waves and cyber space and some how this little message in the bottle washes up on other shores and is then a new experience for those beachcombers on the receiving end.
Just the other day, someone in Kampot messaged me to say ‘hey…love what’s happening at Fish Island… I read about it on Lee Scratch Perry’s Official page’. Cool! I checked that out and indeed the Salvador Dali of music (as described by Keith Richards) had posted our Funk For Cambodia Facebook campaign. One love eh! well, I reckon LSP could very easily relate to the idea of building a little studio on an island amongst poor and disadvantaged fishing and farming villages. That’s what we’re doing at FICAC and thankfully, that’s what Scratch has just spotted and shared… something that looks like and is inspired by his own legendary Black Ark Studios built in 1973 and located behind his family’s home in the Washington Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica.
Of course, most of our kids out at FICAC have never heard of Lee Scratch Perry and reggae music is still just taking hold in Cambodia, but Kampot does have a regular truckload of Rastafari, LSP loving backpackers, music makers and dub DJ’s. So in many ways, we’re well on the way to building and launching a facility that will bring everyone together through music… and music that is very much inspired by the legendary sounds of Lee Scratch Perry. After all, we’re working from a little island, got the island vibe, and our Fish Island kids (who haven’t previously heard of LSP) are already grooving and cooking up their own dance moves to the Grand Daddy of dub reggae Lee Scratch Perry.
So, it’s great to have this kind of attention, even when it’s just a post on Facebook or a message sent across the waves… it really helps us to do awesome things in Cambodia and for me right now, that means keeping up the vision for the future (even while being stranded in Australia) and building the resources and facilities at Fish Island Community Arts Centre.
I’m amazed with the progress we’re making out at FICAC, it’s really been a process of getting through the lockdown and COVID crisis and coming out tops. My partner Kek Soon holds down the fort there and is managing a whole range of activities – from training and teaching and intake of near 60 kids through to managing the building of new facilities – not least our recording studio “the Black Ark of Cambodia” and now we’ve even got a dance studio taking shape, we’ve built the actual steel frames and will soon have a space for local youths on the island to come and work in a safe and dry space that is purpose-built for creating art, printmaking, and dance.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, I’m loving working out of Maitland where – with much support from local community not least Helen Hopcroft who has established an arts studio space The Maitland Space Project and is producing much of our new work – things are sprouting up organically. By having a whole community of Australian artists and musicians working together, this has meant I’ve been able to work and link up our Australian and Cambodian arts projects and community and do some great things ranging from fundraising and giving support to FICAC through to forming new musical line-ups here in Maitland to record, produce and now – play live. So now you can catch Space Funk! playing every Friday night from a fabulous riverside venue called Coquun (In the language of the Wonnarua People, local to the area, Coquun means ‘freshwater’), and, down by the river, we’ve got a whole new music story taking shape.
Space Funk! is already working locally but is also producing new music with singers and musicians from around the world, wonderful voices from everywhere getting together with us to Funk For Cambodia!
Funk for Cambodia! is both new music and a call out to bring together kindred spirits to create a great new music story which directly helps achieve the goal of building and opening the recording studio at Fish Island Community Arts Centre. Already it’s a project that brings together and shines a light on a whole range of music makers, beatmakers including Morganics and DJ Jonah jamming it up, working through a collection of vintage Cambodian rock’n’roll sounds, local up and comers like Ethiopian born Tegenesh Brazier who’s excellent improv keyboard work – playing a little red Roland Go Keys! and her own incredible life story, is central to the Space Funk! space ship we’re building here in Maitland.
Funk For Cambodia is also a great way to connect up between music and arts communities around the planet and helps our mission for creating a Media Arts School at Fish Island Community Arts Centre, Kampot, Cambodia.
One of the upshots about this strange time of global pandemic – yes, there is a silver lining – has been taking time to revisit and rediscover things closer to home. For me, I’ve been living away from Australia for more than a decade so being back here is a great opportunity to plug back into the Australian arts scene. Being based in NSW has meant checking out what’s going on across this huge State and literally getting out on the road to do this. Just recently I teamed up with Steve Kilbey of legendary Australian band The Church to shoot a little indie film and from this cool experience (Space Junk: a Super-8 movie) we curated a a road trip of some dozen artists, nabbed a giant, luxury tour bus and headed out into the Outback. This trip to the desert “The Road To Tibooburra” is a whole story for another time, a whole movie in fact and we’re just getting rolling. But what it did for me is to take me into the interior of our Australian cultural landscape and back into some remarkable stories of music makers, pioneers, who have achieved great things by heading into or out of, the Australian Outback. I’m thinking of legendary Aboriginal rock group The Warumpi Band which formed in the outback settlement of Papunya, Northern Territory, in 1980 and toured all the dusty backroads. I’m sure the image of the Warumpi’s and album titles like Big Name No Blankets, probably inspired the likes of David Bowie whose own work in Outback Australia is absolutely iconic and groundbreaking in terms of breaking down cultural barriers and racial oppression.
Bowie’s video for Let’s Dance filmed at the Carindah Hotel, is a totally seminal moment in Australian music history and the clip and song still resonate with me in a big way. So, it’s been mindblowing to actually get out on the road and to make a pilgrimage to the Carindah Pub where Bowie shot Let’s Dance.
There’s not much happening in Carindah but the whole town is famous for the Bowie video and has an annual Bowie festival. The fact that Let’s Dance features Aboriginal dancers and was seen all across Australian television and the world, did much to change the image of Australia and to show that our country has an indelible and irrefutable Black history that should be recognized and celebrated.
Bowie’s subsequent single, “China Girl” filmed back on Bondi Beach also carries a “very simple, very direct” statement against racism and oppression, but also a very direct statement about the integration of one culture with another. I’m also blown away by the incredible melting pot of people playing a part in the music behind both China Girl and Let’s Dance, a line that includes the unlikely likes of Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Iggy Pop all with a hand in the music and Julian Temple shooting the clips… all this ultimately playing out in Australia at a time the country seemed like the place time forgot.
Getting out on the back roads of Australia takes me back to the amazing trip I did with Channthy and the time we played an extraordinary array of stops – watering holes – between Darwin and the far south of Tasmania. Our “They Came From Somewhere Else Tour” that saw us bring Channthy’s Khmer vocals to the outback of Australia and to little pubs, gigs in libraries, prisons, bowling clubs, heck! even an outback swimming pool and eventually (10,000kms later) back to my old stomping ground in the deep south of Tasmania.
Most of the time, It’s hard for me to think that the road goes on without Channthy but it does. Channthy’s spirit is with me in everything and every aspect of The Cambodian Space Project and taking things forward and into the future. Forward into things we never saw coming and now – COVID-19. Like so many of us lately, I’ve also had that terrible feeling that the ‘road trip’ as we knew it, is over! finished. And that the idea of ‘doing as Kerouac did’ and going On The Road is never going to be possible again. Kerouac’s classic narrative that took place in the years 1947 to 1950, and is brim-full of Americana, a story that marks the jazz era, “somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis.”
But life goes on and right now it’s found me back in Australia where I have been able to stop, contemplate, and create lots of new ideas and directions. Much of my focus is taking things into the future and working towards building and The Fish Island Community Arts Centre from where I hope to have a new studio base and a place to create future sounds out of Cambodia. By working in Australia and teaming up with a great local community of artists and musicians, I’m setting Space Funk! into action and already recording some exciting collaborations with beatmakers, studios, singers and musicians based here, Cambodia and all over the planet.
In many ways, the lockdown has forced a rethink of how to achieve new goals and go forward into the future. Part of this future is the little studio we’re building at FICAC and the ideas that will come through this facility and beam out into the world from Fish Island, Cambodia.
To make all this possible I’m managing crowdfunding via FB. Here’s the link if you would like to contribute:
Fish Island Records
We’re working on some very special releases for Fish Island Records or our newly established FIR label. FIR will make its debut with a series of very special editions of The Cambodian Space Project, some of the CSP’s best recording now being released for the first time on vinyl, as well as other heritage releases from Cambodia and across the ASEAN region. The FIR label is a really exciting new step forward and it’s part of the longer vision for opening the recording studio at FICAC and developing ways to support initiatives including recording and producing newcomers while focussing on history and heritage projects and building up a catalogue of amazing – must have! essential releases out of Cambodia. If you wish to pre-order Black to Gold please email <email@example.com>.
Going live again!
Every Friday night for the coming weeks I’m getting out and playing live with Space Funk! and like CSP it’s a group of fabulous musicians who will invariably be jumping on and off as this colourful carousel spins into musical life. We’re keeping things loose and funky and just getting rolling but it already feels good – fresh, fun, and connecting up vintage sounds, old styles, and new ideas with people all over the place. We’re even doing a special live stream gig that will be shown to the audience in the Grayston Unity pub in Halifax, England this coming Saturday 7 at 10pm UK time which means we’re going live from Maitland on Sunday 8 at 9am from a great local venue called The Cabin. Tune in check it all out at the link below.
I’ll wrap up this post with a grab bag of re-discovered Aussie Funk plus a new slice of Cambodian Ska. If you’re in the Hunter Valley this weekend then please do make it to Maitland and come and check out Space Funk! live at Coquun this Friday night or The Cabin on Sunday morning. Meanwhile enjoy the links here.