Khmer Rock and the Killing Fields

Just heard a great documentary on BBC Radio 4 about Khmer rock, the Cambodian pop sound of the 1960s and early 70s. You can listen to the half-hour programme again on the BBC iPlayer website but unfortunately only until 4 August 2009.  If you’re too late to catch the show, the BBC news article Khmer rock revival seeks new audience sums it up neatly.

The documentary tells the story of how Khmer rock came out of a fusion of Cambodia’s traditional music and of its exposure to the Western rock and roll broadcast on the American Forces Radio Network.  Interviews with those who witnessed and survived the Khmer Rouge regime, as well as with modern fans and musicians (including Dengue Fever), chart the growth of the Phnom Penh nightclub scene, its brutal demise under Pol Pot and the music’s current revival in Cambodia, Asia and the West.  It’s well worth a listen not only for all the fabulous music played throughout but also to learn about the tragedy of Cambodia’s recent past.

I leave you with the ebullient sounds of Ros Serey Sothea’s Tngai Nis Khnyom Nham Sra (Today I Drink Wine).

For more Khmer music from this period, check out the compilation Cambodian Rocks and the KhmerMusic website.  I’m looking forward to watching the film documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll when it comes out.

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4 thoughts on “Khmer Rock and the Killing Fields

  1. I watched the Dengue Fever documentary recently as it was on Comcast cable’s free On-Demand lineup here in the States and was a bit surprised at how much the band owes to previous musicians.

    I knew that they were inspired by that stuff but now I’m beginning to realize how many of their songs are simply covers of earlier Khmer hits.

    That’s not to disparage the band as they are keeping a vital music alive.

    I’m going to listen to that documentary soon. Thanks for the link.

    • I’m not such a fan of Dengue Fever from what I’ve heard of them. One can’t fault Chhom Nimol’s vocals but I find the band’s music rather too polished and heavy – it kind of reminds me of all those tiki surf lounge rock bands that were popular in the 90s. For me, it’s the exuberant, ramshackle production of Khmer rock (and other similar music from that period) that gives it that dreaming, far away, evocative quality.

      Do listen to the documentary – today’s your last chance! It’s really interesting.

  2. Pingback: Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll « Hong Kong In The 60s

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