Day 13 of 100 days: writing on flying through Space and Time with Kak Channthy and The Cambodian Space Project

Channthy’s family – the ones she’s left behind:

When I first met Channthy’s son Makara he was just 5 years old and hadn’t been in school, he was a tiny kid, Channthy was worried about how tired the little boy was looking, big black bags under his eyes and very skinny. It wasn’t as though he wasn’t being looked after, there’s was Thy’s Mother and Father with whom Makara was living with – in their humble thatched bamboo shack – and also Chanran who – as far as I could tell at the time – was a cousin who basically slaved away at domestic duties for many of the families in Prey Ngheat Village.

Channthy was sad that she’d never really got to bond with Makara early, she left the village to find money and support the whole family just a few months after she gave birth and had already given up on the idea of any support from the boy’s father. The first sight of Thy and Makara together upon our arrival and my first visit to the village was very moving at the time. I could see all the love she hoped to give her little one but of course, we were just making a quick visit.

Later, as the CSP took off, we were not only away from Channthy’s village but began spending time touring away from the country. Chanrean whom Thy loves as a sister was there for Makara as his ‘mum number two’ and thankfully is still here as Channthy wished “if ever anything bad happens to me” as Makara’s mother. Thy loved and doted upon Makara and all of the family she’s left behind, including Chanrean, her two much younger brothers Lenny and Long and never a day went past when she wasn’t thinking of her parents Reach Lon and Pen Siem who both passed away within a couple of years of CSP really starting to take-off internationally.

Channthy made me promise her that if ever anything happened, if she died before me, would I please look after her son “please take care of Makara”. I’m very aware that this would be a duty regardless but also I’m happy to say that Makara’s welfare is being thought of and acted upon by a number of Channthy’s good friends and family.

I’m also writing here and working daily, as per usual, on raising funds and support to manage and make a meaningful financial contribution within the next 6 months. There are several groups helping to support Channthy’s family but I am working soly on Kak Channthy Memorial Fund with a team of trusted CSP family members to make decisions on allocating funds and managing long term support once the campaign reaches both the right time and target to close – but not before Channthy’s 100 days ceremony is complete and several other initiatives by my team are put in place to make our collective efforts as successful and as meaningful as possible. I can see that many close friends have already contributed generous donations and wish to thank each of you here but also to thank the anonymous donators for their kind and selfless actions too, everything bit of support helps to make a big difference.

The tricky thing about managing support for Channthy and the family she’s left behind is that Channthy did connect with so many people – some who knew her well and others who may not have known her well but feel for her. For me, there’s no question that I’m involved – for as long as I live – in the welfare of Channthy’s family. But this is also tricky situation; I’m so closely involved but would rather keep my contribution private and personal – offline – wishful thinking! there’s an urgency to communicate with everyone and balance many differing opinions on ‘how things should be done’. Already I’m seeing Facebook posts such as “you haven’t even mourned properly”… unbelievable what people sometimes think and say… I mean what do we really know about what each individual is feeling and how one might be grieving and mourning… so yeah… Channthy’s and my life became very much public domain but not all of it.

Hearing other bits of gossipy feedback as the dust settles … ” I heard so and so say to so and so…” is the kind of talk that I’m just not going to engage in regardless of how well-intentioned folks might think they are… it ain’t helpful. It’s no surprise that many people feel that they know what’s best and how to manage things but many of these ideas are still at a distance. Thanks for the thoughts and advice but you’re not here! on the ground!! So yeah… I must sound more than just moody here… it’s a conscious decision I’m making to double my own efforts to ignore the negative and stay focussed on my own path… but I’m also truly grateful and really surprised by the flipside to this… just incredible kindness and efforts of support and care from many great friends, even folks I haven’t seen for decades but who are still here for me – thank you.

Channthy had become famous but the tragedy of her death has deeply affected us all. Right now there’s important things in life to get on with, hurdles to jump and obstacles to overcome as well as some excellent new opportunities that will be of ongoing benefit to the family Channthy whom has left behind.

Tonight, it’s my last night in Phnom Penh for a few weeks so I’ve been out for dinner with Chanrean and Makara, Channthy’s friend Mathieu and my partner Kek Soon. As I walked home tonight I thought back to all the times Thy and I have left Phnom Penh and have also left knowing that we always has the support of great friends who believed in what we were doing as The Cambodian Space Project but also understood Channthy’s predicament and were always on hand to help and check-in on her family while we were away. I love the photo Anne Pizey sent me of a little birthday party for Makara, I think it was his sixth? with Chanrean watching him blow out candles at the first house Thy and I had set-up as a family based back in 2011 – our Space Odyssey year! We weren’t there for this birthday but Thy would always make she spoilt, loved and cherish Makara and her family as soon as she returned… she’d pack special foods… it could be Kangaroo meat from Australia, jams or wine from France, olives from Italy, rum from Reunion Island, biscuits from Denmark, cheese and cherries from Switzerland and apples from Tasmania. She’d also collect airline blankets (and make me steal them) and distribute them to elderly people back in the village.

So, it was dinner at the FCC, spaghetti for Makara and he always reckons I cook it best but we were there to discuss future plans and part of this is to create a new shop – a Memorial Shop and Art Gallery not far from the FCC to keep the family income coming in through the sales of Channthy’s work and our music and art as The Cambodian Space Project – income from the CSP has been supporting Channthy’s extended family for the past 9 years and it’s important to keep this going, well beyond our immediate crowdfunding campaign.

On Friday night the CSP team – including Thy’s brothers Lenny and Long, Chanrean and Makara, and even Adrian Gayraud of an earlier CSP grouping, returning on bass – we all gathered together to re-launch CSP as the CSP Mothership and to make this debut performance at The French Embassy a new beginning. Musically this was a shaky start, emotionally it was hard… still bumping into people who wish pay their condolences and express grief all over again… but this was a new beginning and as per the CSP it was also a gig and source of income for all the team involved – Channthy’s family.


So it’s going to be a while before we do another show but things are alright, we’ve got short term future covered and longer term will be planned once things settle and not until Channthy’s 100 Days ceremony. Tonight, we talked out friends from abroad who are planning to travel to Cambodia and join Channthy’s family on June 30/July 1 for the 100 Days ceremony and we will also plan to create a fitting memorial concert for Thy in Phnom Penh on July 4. These events will be open to everyone and will bring together more friends and especially our dear friends from abroad who be here with us as Channthy’s spirit passes from this world into another.

Tomorrow, I’m away from Cambodia for almost a month. I’ll be on the road – again – sharing our story but this time it’s without Channthy, just my memories of her in places we’d both loved and lived it up together – Hong Kong – London – France and to Cannes Film Festival where a little film by made Mark Roy and I – will screen at the Olympia Cinema on May 14th. Traveling all this way just for 3;20 seconds of screen time at Cannes seems like a big effort for little return but frankly, I can’t wait… Flicker & Fade is a film shot on Super 8 and neither or Mark or I have actually seen the film… it was sent off to a lab in London, telecined and thankfully selected amongst the best 8 of nearly 200 entries… I’m confident that it must look pretty good but I also know, there’s a moment in film when Channthy’s voice will come in and fill my heart and soul with all the happiness in the world. She will be on the big screen in Cannes and perhaps this will allow us to make a bigger film in homage to Channthy. Let’s see. I’ll be meeting up with Mark Roy and we’re giving this trip our best shot…

I’m also writing here to remind you to please support Kak Channthy Memorial Fund and help us help those Channthy’s left behind. This is post 13/100 days of writing and I’m going to leave you with some words from my Flicker & Fade co-conspirator Mark Roy.

In her all-too-brief lifetime, Channthy affected and inspired so many people. Both as a performer and as a person, Srey Thy was a constant source of energy and good humour. She gave so much back to the Cambodian people: reviving hopes, lifting spirits, and doing it all with her own style, cheekiness, and grace. Srey Thy was always so down-to-earth and unaffected. A star, for sure, but also a people person, grounded in family and friends. Her story is a compelling one – not just as a classic rock’n’roll narrative, but also for what it meant to everyone around her. Hers is a very human story, one that anyone with half a soul can relate to. Her death is such a great loss. Shine on, our Cambodian star ♥