I suspect that like the music that is documented in the now seven volume Ethiopiques: The Golden Years of Modern Ethiopian Music, 1969-1975 series on Buda, the music of Cambodian Rocks probably grew out of some kind of night club scene in urban centers like
. Ethiopiques and Cambodian Rocks document thriving Western influenced musics that were squelched by communist takeovers. The lights went out on both scenes in 1975 and in Phnom Penh the commies killed the video stars. Kampuchea
There are no band or song names much less any discographical information on the CD. (For a minute I thought this might be some kind of hoax a la John Lurie’s latter day black-face Marvin Pontiac Zip Coon act. Compiler Paul Wheeler’s initials are also the initials of the label Parallel World.) The story goes that Wheeler was on his way to the ancient Cambodian ruins of
Angkor when he noticed the bus driver incessantly playing a cassette of this music. Intrigued, Wheeler was later able to hum one of the tunes at a cassette stall and purchased a handful of cassettes. Cambodian friends told him it was a style known as circle dance music. Cambodian Rocks is drawn from these cassettes.
There is no doubt that the musicians of Cambodian Rocks were not only listening to Western rock and R&B but mastering it. Bits of surf, wild R&B, girl-group vocals, garage, post-garage psychedelia, Cuban bongos, and even some pre-punk snarling vocals swirl about often in the same song. One song features a strangled screaming vocal on a cover of the Booker T and the M.G.’s instrumental “Hip-Hug-Her.” There is a long standing tradition in popular Cambodian music of singers teasing their audience during performances and that playfulness is apparent on Cambodian Rocks. There is a knowing self awareness to many of the vocals that anticipates the absurdist tongue-in-cheek irony of so many contemporary Japanese bands. Not only have these musicians absorbed late 60’s Western Rock and R&B their chops are so flawless and assured it’s almost if they are actually mocking the Western models, deconstructing them—in the correct Derridaian sense, thank you—and one uping the sources, more hijacking than parodying.Despite this virtuosic tomfoolery with Western rock, regional folk styles are in the mix most notably the Thai-Laotian mor-lam whose accents and I-IV-V chord structure merge neatly with rock’s 4/4 beat and blues chord progressions. More.
I’ve been to
a couple of times and after hearing the original Cambodia Rocks CD I decided to pick up some similar music of my own. I then compiled it on to my own personal CD of 13 tracks which is available here in MP3 format. At least three of the tracks do appear on other compilation albums, but I don’t believe the others have been compiled. I’ve also included the artwork to my CD which utilizes the original artwork from the Cambodian cassettes. There’s no track listing because it was all written in Khmer. I hope you enjoy it! Cambodia