POST 24 OF 100 DAYS: WRITING ON FLYING THROUGH SPACE AND TIME WITH KAK CHANNTHY AND THE CAMBODIAN SPACE PROJECT
Oh no… I just fully teared-up… this in front of two complete strangers, right in the midst of a conversation on Cambodian music etc., I’m not really embarrassed by this outpouring of grief, it’s sometimes something that just happens but I did feel, right at that moment, so sorry to suddenly turn a happy chatty moment with two passersby into an uncomfortable and unexpected mood change for a lovely, happy couple – two young travellers from California – who had just called by my corner cafe/art house, on this unusually cold and wet morning just a day after Xmas, here in Kampot.
It’s Boxing Day, my partner Soon had just called me downstairs from my 1st studio space to meet and chat with the visitors who’d mentioned their interest in knowing more about the music and art scene here in Cambodia… well, perhaps they’d come to the right place…. we’ve got so much stuff happening and it all feels very special and exciting … years in the making in fact – so there’s me waving about a vinyl record, a ‘test pressing’ as exhibit A, and talking it all up. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, a radio show, travelling and meeting new people and on this occasion, probably repeating myself but got chatting away about the Angkor Pop! compilation – yes! it’s actually pressed – and to the surprise of my visitors – telling how “this is the very first compilation album of Cambodian bands on vinyl ever! and most certainly the only record out of Asia where all the acts chose and covered an Iggy Pop song!”
Wow! fun stuff… I cued up the opener I’m Bored covered by local legends The Kampot Playboys… followed by Doch Chkae (Same as Dog) – the band now legendary for their real-to-life bio as being ‘ex rubbish dump scavengers’ rocking out with their aptly chosen cover of Now I Wanna Be Your Dog and then the track all our staff, waiting patiently to hear their own contribution, as Sou Sou Band covering Iggy’s cartoonish Monster Men. As always, it’s nice to have visitors here and especially people who are just discovering the incredibly cool new and emerging arts new sounds of Cambodia. It’s usually something I’m always very happy and enthusiastic to chat about but perhaps it was because it’s Christmas time and, while I’m the sort that opts out of paying to much heed to the emotions that come out on Yuletide… end of the year and all… today was clearly different. I just broke down and couldn’t speak another word…Cambodian Space Project was booming out of the monitors, a lively track we’d recorded back in Detroit with a great bit of 60’s surf style of guitar and drumming called Dance Twist. I choked up, “I’m sorry… the singer of this band died earlier this year… it’s been devastating”. The couple whom I’d just introduced to CSP’s music, left standing there telling me “oh so sorry… It’s alright, don’t mind us… we’re so sorry, perhaps we’ll come back later”. Well, of course, grief comes in waves I don’t think I’ll ever get over the shock of losing Channthy but as it’s almost a daily thing – someone will get in touch to talk about CSP or offer condolences for our loss – more recently, I’d simply been able to cut the conversation short or respond more matter of factly, and it’s not that I want to be dry or short about the subject but it’s true that after such loss, life does go on for the living and folks don’t always want to know about sadness and loss. This Xmas and New Year in Cambodia is not something I’m celebrating, it’s a time of reflection and sorrow.
Despite the sadness and difficulties of of the year just gone, right now, I’m happy to be back here in Kampot and I’m certainly grateful for all the good things happening in life, not least our little family here at KAMA, the wonderfully creative space we’ve made – it’s a place where we continue to evolve in the pursuit of a life of music and art. For me personally 2018 has been bewildering in the way that it’s brought both great sorrow and sadness and at the same time, lots of amazingly good things – sometimes everything hits you all at once and that’s life. So if the year ahead is slow or boring, without mishap or disaster, I won’t be complaining.
Right from the moment Channthy and I formed the CSP – Dec 9, 2009 – Christmas time has been an exciting time, full of fun, adventures, celebrating with friends but on the other hand, there’s been many very stressful times not least the first time we set off on our first Australian tour, Channthy’s Mum was gravely ill and just as we landed in Bangkok on Xmas Day 2010, a relative had called to let Thy know that her mother was back Hospital. Thankfully, Pan Seam survived that Xmas and lived long enough to recover enough to enjoy seeing her daughter’s videos and photos of her Australian tour and of course, to hear the news and sees the photos of our wedding in Tasmania, we married at the end of that month-long tour then returned briefly to Phnom Penh before traveling onto Hong Kong, China and USA and back to Cambodia.
So as we say goodbye to 2018 it’s so hard to think of the future without Channthy but somehow, she’s with us still and The Cambodian Space Project is continuing on as The CSP MOTHERSHIP but without Channthy’s work in bringing everyone together – her modus operandi was always ‘more the merrier’ and Thy would be happiest on tour in Cambodia where she could involve her whole family – this time last year she’d already bought her younger brother (someone she raised more as her own son) a set of congas and had placed him into the band as a permanent member! – sometimes her family and friends would join the band in the studio or on extended jaunts across the Kingdom. Last December had been a happy time, a new album just released, Thy and I had planned to create music music theatre productions, ideas loosely based around the Soul Train era but had also had much fun talking about new music ideas – Thy would always, be asking me to send her youtube links or mp3’s for her phone playlist, here’s a few we shared back in December.
Last shows for the Cambodian Space Project turned out to be the launch night and closing party for of our first Folk Art & Blues Festival. Thy took the band photos at the final show, as a deluge of rain suddenly stopped soundcheck at Otres market. She was in full-flight that evening despite also being worried about an overbearing fan who’d been following her of late, as always, once Channthy hit the stage nothing else mattered. It was a fine way to begin the year – launching our own little festival (despite Thy thinking it cost us too much to do) and sharing the stage with many others including our French booking agent Jean-Luc who’d managed to find some holiday time and made his first trip to Cambodia to form the “Phnom Penh Kleps” and experience touring the so called Kingdom of Wonder. This year we’re looking at staging and touring the 2nd edition of Folk Art Blues festival aka FAB Fest and while Festival is probably too big and bold a word to use for our ‘old-timey travellin’ music troupe’ FAB will again bring together and eclectic and diverse line-up of cool and groovy music and art events and this year… we’ll end aim to bring the whole roadshow up the mountains to one of our favourite places in Cambodia with a FAB fest finale in Mondulkiri – a place Channthy dreamed of and wrote about in her first song for the Space Project.
So for the rest of us, the CSP musicians, we will be rebuilding and continuing to aim high – already, with the addition of new members including Bong Sak’s daughter Nang Ye-Ye, there’s a sound and a style that is uniquely Cambodian and a great set of new music coming together, the kind of groovy, dancy stuff that Channthy always loved and again, with a bit of luck and some hard work, The CSP Mothership carries on the dream we began as a humble two-piece back in December ’09. I’m already excited about some of the recordings that we’ve tracked – with Mothership members in the UK and in Cambodia – and lately have really enjoyed getting back to discovering new music as part of this process – a healing thing – and have even began virtual ‘crate diggin’ across the far-out sounds of greater Asian through hosting a weekly (most of the time) show on Kampot Radio, called Asian Garage Undergound – check it out, it’s fun thing to do and for the first time in ages, I’m discovering lots of wonderful new, lost music. This coming month I’ll be dedicating a few shows to playing some of the fabulous guest acts joining The Mothership at FAB fest including Londoners, Frankie Teardrop Dead, Geographer of The Moon plus a bunch of new music out of Saigon such as OPN AIR DRG MKT and recent discovery Skeleton Goode. Of course, hardly a show goes by when I’m not spinning something off the soon-to-be-released Angkor Pop! – the first LP compilation of new Cambodian bands ever! so please do turn on and turn in with us on Kampot Radio every Thursday 6pm(+7 GMT).
So this year will be different. Yes, the Cambodian Space Project continues on – mostly one projects and bookings that already existed as things Channthy and I were planning but our live band becomes The Mothership. My own schedule is again involving producing music and travel and I can only be grateful for this; things on the horizon are very much an evolution of all that’s gone before in terms of the music I’m involved with but there’s also other work to do, from film to writing and this the legacy of the time I’ve lived, loved and spent working with Channthy. Less than ten years together in all, four years in marriage and a lifetime in rock’n’roll – I figure that a life fully lived is a life worth writing about and I’ll spend time to collect my thoughts and our story together to put this into a book – a story I’d sketched out based on the first five years of The Cambodian Space Project – happy, joyous, crazy times but sad, tragic and heartbreaking at the same time, much like the story of Cambodia herself, a beautiful, human story full of music, love and song.
I am still trying to process so many of my own thoughts, recollections and reflections on my life with Channthy and it’s just getting to a point where it might be time to think in more depth about writing and working on aspects of our music and journey together, however, this last year has just hit hard and I’ve been more concerned about taking care of the immediate needs and concerns, not least, setting up a future for Channthy’s son and ongoing work and opportunities for her small family to continue to work with, and benefit from, The Cambodian Space Project legacy, after all, it’s their family history and the legacy of Channthy’s family too. Thankfully, there have been many people involved in helping to get through and I’m again extending my thanks to all who are continuing to support, particular those who have so generously given via Kak Channthy Memorial Fund – now established as legally registered Eng Makara Trust fund supporting monthly.
So, I’ll leave you all here with a couple of thoughts, first from and old CSP friend from Portland, Colin just arrived back in Kampot and turned up to my surprise for a Xmas Eve visit to KAMA. The first thing we got chatting about was music “so what are you working on now? anything coming up?” he asked. My response was to say “Not much”.. of course, that’s not true, the show goes on and I’ve been booked up with lots of stuff, bookings including a wedding for an old friend of Channthy’s – booked early with the expection that planning a year ahead would ensure CSP would be available. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I can’t really think of anything to tell you”. I wasn’t sure if Colin new of Channthy’s death, you see, it’s everyday someone gets in touch to offer condolences or to talk but others who are still new to the story and wondering where the next gig might be… news and facebook doesn’t always reach everyone though news of Channthy’s death circulated through the world’s press back when we awoke to the shock on March 20. “Hey…I’m so sorry to hear the news” Colin quietly assured me before I replied and shared my thoughts with Colin and his friend also visiting from USA (someone who wasn’t aware of Channthy and CSP) “Yes, it’s a huge loss, I was just overcome with grief talking about Thy earlier today when I was playing some of our music to a couple of strangers who’d enquired about the music and artworks here. Colin described Cambodian Space Project to his companion then remarked “It’s really awesome music but I became even more a follower of The Cambodian Space Project for the bands social…human story… incredible…Channthy was amazing”.