and I have never been the same. A few years back, I started listening to tons of psychedelic garage bands from the 1960′s and during this time my friend lent me this CD called Cambodian Rocks. I listened to it and it blew me away. This music felt very familiar with the sounds of surf music and electric psychedelia and very unfamiliar in tongue and vocal style. It was the beautiful language of Cambodia called Khmer and the golden voice of Ros Sereysothea that drew me in. Cambodia Rocks is this compilation of late 1960′s and early 1970′s Cambodian rock music. But, where did it come from…
The story is that an American tourist named Paul Wheeler was traveling in Siem Reap area of Cambodia and he kept hearing this incredible rock’n'roll in the restaurants. He hired a motorcyclist to take him to a place where he could buy Cambodian music and he ended up at an open market where a man was selling cassettes. After hanging out with this man for a few hours listening to cassettes he bought six tapes, brought them back to the States, and made a mixed taped with his favorite songs. Then Wheeler gave the mixed tape to his friend that owned Parallel Record Label and Cambodian Rocks was born. The compilation features the voices of Ros Sereysothea, Sinn Sissamouth, Pan Ron, Meas Samon, and many more. These singers and their bands created a whole new style of rock’n'roll.
After listening to this gem, I realized that I was very lucky to have even heard these recordings. These recordings were relics that survived the Khmer Rouge Regime. The Khmer Rouge (the Cambodian Communist Party) killed over 1.7 million Cambodians from 1970-1974 including the civil servants, the doctors, the artists, the musicians, and the librarians. The Khmer Rouge nearly wiped out all of Cambodian culture pre-1970. And I was very sad to find out that Ros Sereysothea, Sinn Sissamouth, Pan Ron, and Meas Samon were said to have “disappeared” during this regime.
Nowadays, an American band named Dengue Fever fronted by Chhom Nimol (a descendant of the famous Cambodian vocalists) plays music with a deep Khmer influence combined with rock, rhythm, and blues. And to preserve the Cambodian Rocks legacy the band just released Electric Cambodia : 14 rare gems from Cambodia’s past featuring Ros Sereysothea, Sinn Sissamouth, Pan Ron, Meas Samon. The Sunnyvale Library just received their copy and it is currently being cataloged for you to check out! In the meantime check out this track by Ros Sereysothea, Chnam oun Dop-Pram Muy “I’m 16″ provided by WFMU.
To read more about the survivors of the Khmer Rouge check out Loung Ung’s trilogy beginning with First they killed my father : a daughter of Cambodia remembers .