When I was last visiting Cambodia in 2007 I was very pleased to find a roadside music store (actually a shack) where I purchased several CDs from Cambodia's most notable music artist Sinn Sisamouth as well as some other "Cambodian Rock" CDs. The most widely recognized Cambodian vocalists, Sisamouth, Ros Sereysothea, and Pan Ron have appeared on a handful of reissued international compilations that have peaked the interest of avid music collectors and hipsters alike. These artists resonated with Western audiences because of their incorporation of four-piece rock sounds with traditional Khmer music. Many songs were fuzz-addled, psychedelic takes on well-known Western rock hits and they were punctuated by a particular vocal style that involved a throaty warble that was often high-pitched and treble heavy (this being especially true of female Khmer vocalists). Translated, or perhaps lost in translation, the track titles were often pretty humorous: "Don't Let My Girlfriend Tickle Me", "Die Of Girl's Bottom", "Where Is Strange", "I Very Regret".
The Cambodian Space Project (CSP), like the Los Angeles based band Dengue Fever, are capitalizing/paying homage to their predecessors, but CSP are actually located in Phnom Penh Cambodia. The band consists of native singer Srey Thy, a former karaoke singer who grew up in a remote village outside the nation's capital, and a backing band made up of an Australian, a Frenchman, and a fellow Cambodian. They play mostly 60's standards but have been increasingly adding Thy's originals. Their debut 2001: A Space Odyssey contains two Thy compositions, "Mean Visa Kmean Bai (Have Visa, No Have Rice)" and "Pros Kangaroo (Kangaroo Boy)", which employs a jangly 80's guitar sound reminiscent of The Bangles. These are not expert players, more akin to a local bar band, but there is an exuberance to the playing, even though the subject matter often portends the political strife that riled Cambodia, eventually leading to the genocidal actions of the Khmer Rouge. Khmer music really proves the resilience and patent optimism of the Cambodian people in light of the unbelievable horrors they were subjected to. If not for the Khmer Rouge's systematic destruction of all art and intellectual property this music would have undoubtedly found a much wider audience.
Buy this record if you can't afford the trip to Angkor Wat but want to recreate the Tonle Sap in your bathtub.