Saturday, November 25, 2006

Jimi Lundy - love ballads a speciality

If you haven't heard of singer-songwriter Jimi Lundy, check him out immediately. This talented musician was born in Battambang, Cambodia and now resides in Melbourne, Australia, and released his first album, Steal My Heart, a couple of years ago. You can hear samples from the album here. It contains ten original songs, penned by Jimi and friends, and is an excellent collection of sentimental love ballads, heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies. One of the tracks, Cambodia, will feature in the soon to be released film by director Tim Pek called Red Sense.
I caught up with Jimi in Melbourne and he tells me, "my second ep is very close to completion, it will feature six brand new songs...the direction of the ep will be closer to the real me as it will feature more ballads and soft rock with a blend of string quartets and piano. I perform very often in Melbourne and other states and have returned to Cambodia twice now, and performed with some of the biggest names in Cambodia, however I choose to base my career here in Melbourne..." Jimi and his family arrived in Australia in 1983 and with a lot of hard work behind him, he's at a point now where the quality of his voice and his songwriting talent certainly deserve a wider audience. You can find out more about Jimi Lundy at his website and on MySpace.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Can you help Sitthy?... & Sok Sreymom

Saem Sitthy is just 23 years old but three months ago her life changed forever when she was diagnosed with kidney failure. Up til then Sitthy's passion was to help her fellow Khmer people, and contribute to the development of her poverty-stricken country. The daughter of subsistence farmers in Battambang, she had graduated from university with an outstanding record and was working in the NGO field, most recently in children's rights. Quite simply, she and her family are unable to afford the necessary medical expenses to sustain her life, so friends of this courageous young woman are seeking monetary help. You can read more about Sitthy's plight at www.helpsitthy.com.
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In my desire to bring to your attention some of the Cambodian singers entertaining the Khmer communities in the USA and beyond, I'd like to introduce you to the beautiful Sok Sreymom, known as the Khmer Siren, who moved to the States twelve years ago and has been winning over fans with her exquisite voice and graceful beauty ever since. Before her move, she was recognised as one of Cambodia's best actresses, appearing in many films, television shows and karaoke videos and spent two years travelling with King Norodom Sihanouk's entourage as a cultural ambassador. As a child, she lost her father during the Khmer Rouge regime and ran away from home at sixteen before being spotted and introduced into the movie business. Today her star is shining brightly amongst the large Khmer community in the US and you can find out more about Sok Sreymom at her website or on her MySpace webpage.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dy Saveth - back on stage

My blog post about Dy Saveth, dubbed Cambodia's Bridgette Bardot, which you can view here, has been followed up by our very own Phnom Penh based correspondent, Jinja, with this review of Dy Saveth's latest public performance. Now 62, Dy Saveth is still making films - she was better known as an actress during the golden age of Khmer film-making in the '60s and '70s - but is now making a splash as a singer, and a professor of fine arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts!

Gig review: Dy Saveth at Salt Lounge, Saturday the 18th November, 8pm:
I didn't see any flyers but got word via text message that a classic star was going to perform, so Saturday the place to be was Salt Lounge, Phnom Penh. A special tent and stage was set up outside main bar, with balloons, banners and a few tricked out motos for flair. By 8:30 pm the tent was pretty packed, fairly mixed between foreigners and locals. Many had never seen Dy Saveth, and were curious to get a look. First to appear was Leang Seckon, who in addition to being a painter has done some professional karaoke. He was joined soon after by Dy Saveth (to enthusiastic applause) who sang solo tunes (in Khmer and French) and some duets with Seckon. While at some concerts people wave lighters aloft, this show was characterized by people holding up their phone cameras to get a good shot. Its was very retro-Cambodia-kitsch, in the best sort of way. No set list alas, but there were many familar sounds. Most of the audience stuck around for a drag show that followed, and things wound down by about 11pm. The general consensus after the show was 'when's the next one'? I'll post news if and when I hear. [here's a photo of Dy Saveth performing at the Salt Louge, courtesy of Jinja].

Reggaebaby Jean Mclean hits top note

Jean Mclean (left) with Yaz Alexander.
Birmingham's very own Reggaebaby, Jean Mclean, last night put on a mightily impressive performance of lovers rock reggae rhythms, superbly backed by the Memphis band, a full brass section and backing singers, Rankin Bev and Anne-Marie. The Ipanema bar in the city centre provided the setting that attracted a good crowd for a promotion by John Morris' Nurvrax Productions. Following a vocal warm-up by Memphis brothers Earl and Keith Robinson, Jean Mclean opened up her initial half hour set of half a dozen of her own songs with her theme tune, I'm A Reggaebaby, from her album of the same name, followed by So In Love, Baby You, Stand Up, Boyfriend and Longtime. Self-assured and accomplished in her execution, Jean's voice was powerful and potent, her backing singers providing precise harmonies, and Alvin Davis (sax), Liz Ralls (trumpet) and Errol (trombone) adding an extra brass dimension that can never be substituted by keyboard wizardry.
For her second set, lasting just under an hour, Jean paid tribute to some of the reggae legends she most admires. Accompanied by Maurice Simpson on keyboards and Alvin Davis on sax, she began with Bob Marley's Waiting In Vain and was rejoined by the rest of the band (John Irish - guitar, Anthony Caines - bass, Victor Gift - drums) for Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly. For the first of two Dennis Brown numbers, she teamed up for a duet with Peter Spence, before songs penned by Marley and Eddy Grant were split by her own very catchy number, Goodbye. Joined briefly by Yaz Alexander for Living on the Frontline, Jean closed her set with a repeat of her theme song, I'm A Reggaebaby, to a well-deserved ovation. I urge everyone to catch the next Jean Mclean live performance - you'll be glad you did. In the meantime, to find out more, go to www.reggaebaby.com.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The most famous Khmer movie actor?

These questions are always open to debate, but you will find many a supporter who'll agree that the most famous, handsome and gifted male Khmer movie actor of the '60s and '70 was Kong Song Eurn (also known as Kong Seum Eeum and Kong Sam Oeun). Starring in many movies from that golden period of Khmer film-making, Kong (pictured) lost his life, like so many of the well-known faces from the silver screen, during the Pol Pot regime but his work lives on and can now be viewed on YouTube. Perhaps the most loved film of that period, a typical story of boy and girl romance, was Orn Euy Srey Orn, starring Kong and his female lead Virak Dara. Shot in 1973, it contains songs from the undisputed king of that period, Sinn Sisamouth, and can now be viewed on YouTube. I believe Kong was survived by his brother, Kong Chantha, who was a well-known singer. If you can fill in some of the blanks about the life & times of Kong Song Eurn, please let me know.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Orientations - top magazine

Orientations is a glossy magazine aimed at collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art and the latest issue, Vol 37 # 8 Nov/Dec 2006, is a 'must have' for anyone interested in finding out more about the art of the Angkor civilization in Cambodia. It previews the forthcoming 'Angkor - Sacred Heritage of Cambodia' exhibition to be held in Germany and Switzerland (mid-December to April 2007) and contains no less than thirty pages and six articles on various aspects of the Khmer heritage. Its published in Hong Kong and is available on subscription here. In addition to the Angkor spread, the limelight is shared with articles extolling the virtues of the sacred Chola bronzes from Southern India which are on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until the end of February.

As for the Angkor articles, the co-curator of the Bonn exhibition, Helen Jessup discusses the early art of the ancient Khmers, accompanied by gorgeous photos by John Gollings, whilst Wibke Lobo highlights some of the key elements of the exhibition including the bronze Vishnu found at the West Mebon in Angkor. Over 100 of the finest pieces of Khmer art will travel from Cambodia to Germany for the show. Brilliant scholar Ang Choulean explores the traditions of the linga in Cambodia, while Hab Touch and Lucie Folan of the National Museum discuss Khmer art held overseas and recent instances where sculptures have been identified and reunited through international efforts. Far too much of the Khmer heritage is held abroad in museums or private collections and its high time these antiquities were returned to their rightful home. HeritageWatch director Dougald O'Reilly makes it quite clear that urgent efforts need to continue to stem the flow of artefacts leaving Cambodia and his organization are at the forefront of that battle to keep them in their homeland, as I've highlighted in previous postings on my blog.

Perhaps the most interesting article in the Angkor section of the magazine is a second piece by Helen Jessup, where she introduces a few of the elder statesmen as well as some of their younger and dynamic students, who are among those making a real difference in various fields like archaeology and ceramics. Jessup provides an insight into the individuals and gleans from them, a view of the current challenges facing Cambodia's cultural identity. She interviews people of the stature of Vann Molyvann, Ang Choulean and statesman and archaeologist Son Soubert, alongwith architects Hok Sokol and Long Nary, and ceramics experts like Ea Darith, Pich Thyda and Chap Sopheara. Ly Daravuth of the Reyum Institute, and Hab Touch, deputy director of the National Museum are deservedly highlighted, as is the Museum's director Khun Samen (pictured), who has recently celebrated a decade in charge after taking over from Pich Keo. All in all, an excellent magazine and well worth getting hold of a copy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hab Touch - Khmer heritage in his hands

One of the key personnel at Cambodia's National Museum is the deputy director, Hab Touch, who's responsible for co-ordinating the international exhibitions of Khmer art that have appeared in Korea, Japan and from December this year, in Bonn, Germany. With a master's degree in conservation and restoration from the Polish University of Torun, Touch (pictured) has recently contributed an article on Khmer sculpture held abroad and the efforts being made to relocate important items of Khmer art in the latest edition of the fine arts magazine, Orientations. The folks at Orientations have sent me a copy of their latest issue and its a superbly produced glossy magazine that devotes thirty pages to articles on the Angkor heritage, furnished with a selection of excellent photographs [I''ll comment more on the magazine in another blog post].

Under Hab Touch's leadership, the National Museum is currently updating its collection records, as well as those of its provincial collections. Within the museum past collection catalogues are being digitally archived and the objects in storage and on display checked against them. This is the first time a comprehensive inventory has been made referencing old catalogues since the museum reopened in 1979 and will clarify the condition of the collection and what has gone missing during the Khmer Rouge period. The Collection Inventory Project is being funded through the generosity of Shelby White through the Leon Levy Foundation. An inventory of provincial museum and cultural office collections, funded by Friends of Khmer Culture, is also being undertaken by a team from the National Museum. In fact, Touch presented a paper to a conference on Angkor at The University of Sydney in July on the provincial museum project. Improved record keeping is considered a practical measure to safeguard future losses of Cambodian art to the black market. Today the National Museum holds around 15,000 objects, the majority of which are in storage, and the collection is growing every year as more pieces are discovered, donated or returned to the Museum.

Read more about the forthcoming exhibition of Khmer art in Germany here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cambodia on UK television

What an inspired choice for one of 5 people to profile - gallery guards, museum attendants and cleaners - whose job it is to look after works of art. Cambodia's very own favourite leaf-sweeper, Choun Nhiem, was chosen to represent this unsung group of people for an hour long tv programme on BBC last night. Presented by Alan Yentob, Imagine - Who Cares about Art?, cut to Nhiem talking about his life and his work at the Angkor temple of Ta Prohm throughout the programme, alongside visits to places like the Louvre gallery in Paris and St Petersburg's Hermitage, as they explained the daily lives of this representative group. It was clear that Nhiem won't go on forever and featuring in this programme was a fitting testament to his life's work, which you can read more about here.

Another Cambodian will feature on television tomorrow night, in the ITV documentary, My New Face. Dealing with the stories of children with badly disfigured faces, two remarkable craniofacial surgeons Martin Kelly and Norman Waterhouse, devote their free time and skills to the UK charity Facing The World and this includes 12-year old Ney, who lives in a shack in Cambodia and is frequently stoned by children in his village. The programme shows the surgeons achieving remarkable transformations for the four children they're able to help.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Reggae Fever at The Drum

Last night was one of those occasions when Birmingham played host to some top class reggae singers but the lack of promotion and advertising meant that the crowd was much smaller than it should have been. Let's face it, when someone of the stature of Marcia Griffiths is on the bill, The Drum should've been packed to the rafters to celebrate alongwith this icon of the reggae world. It wasn't. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself and Ms Griffiths, a sprightly 57 years old, gave a masterclass in how to entertain her adoring fans. As one of the famous I-Threes that accompanied Bob Marley on his barrier-breaking tours around the globe, and as one-half of the duo Bob and Marcia, she's seen it all and still packs a considerable punch. Backing her were the Ruff Cut Band from London, who'd provided the sound for the two previous acts, Prince Malachi and Sylvia Tella.

In true laid-back style, the evening's entertainment finally kicked-off at midnight with one of my own favourite singers, Yaz Alexander (pictured), pumping out three songs, This World, Forward and I. On stage for less than ten minutes, but with show-time at a premium because of the late start, it wasn't nearly long enough, though in typical Yaz style, she gave it everything. Next up was Tenor Star who also gave stage-time to the powerful and gifted Claire Angel before Sylvia Tella took to the stage, accompanied by Yaz as her backing vocalist. Sylvia sings lovers-rock style and is popular in the UK though she spends a lot of her time in Brazil these days. Included in her five-song performance were Plastic Smile, Special Way and Groove with the Times, which went down well with the audience. It was the first time I'd seen Sylvia live - she spent a couple of years as a backing vocalist with Steel Pulse at the end of the '90s - and she has a great voice and bubbly stage presence. All in all, a night packed with musical talent and hugely enjoyable, but the promoters really need to get their act together to pull in the punters.

You can find out more about Yaz here. In addition, MySpace is a goldmine of information on Yaz

Catching the Chhom Nimol fever

Okay, so I'm lagging well behind all the regular news media, etc in highlighting the band Dengue Fever, but I'll do it anyway. Fronted by the gorgeous Chhom Nimol, the band play a unique fusion of 60's psychedelic pop rock with Nimol (pictured) singing in her native Cambodian language and to be honest they're taking the international music market by storm. In my simple mind, not dissimilar to the way the B-52's caught on a few years ago. Nimol was plucked from a Long Beach nightclub to join the all American band and two albums later, Dengue Fever and last year's Escape from Dragon House (the name of Nimol's nightclub) have gone down particularly well. They were also featured on the soundtrack to the Matt Dillon film, City of Ghosts. At the back end of 2005, the band paid a visit to Cambodia and will be featured on the forthcoming film, Don't Think I've Forgotten. To find out more about this emerging phenomena, click here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Brandon Eang - documenting his past

Film-maker Brandon Eang has to-date completed two documentaries about the country of his birth, Cambodia. The 36 year old teacher (pictured), based in Massachusetts, became a US citizen in 1997 and adopted the name Brandon, retaining his Khmer name of Wathana as his middle name. He had arrived in the States in 1981 from a Thai-border camp with the surviving members of his family and originally settled in California. His film work began when he returned to Cambodia in 1999 and produced an hour-long documentary called Floating on Lotus Flowers, in partnership with Matt Scott. The title came from an incident in his childhood where his life was saved by lotus flowers that kept him afloat after he was thrown into a pond to die. He lost two younger siblings who died of malnutrition before the Vietnamese liberated the camp they were held in. His documentary is based on his story of survival. His second documentary is called Devotion and it was filmed in 2002 and 2003. Dedicated to his mother, it looks at Cambodia from the female perspective and particularly around marriage customs. In addition to his film-making, his return visits to Cambodia have enabled him to raise funds for the village where he was born, Prek Temeak.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar

The story of my discovery of the satellite temples surrounding the huge fortress complex of Banteay Chhmar, in the northwestern corner of Cambodia, can be read here. It took place in January 2005 and four of the eight temples I found nearby have retained their own massive towers with smiling Bayon-style Avalokitesvara faces surveying the surrounding countryside. Whilst some were difficult to access due to the dense vegetation, all were remarkably close to the main site and make a visit to this important Jayavarman VII-period temple at Banteay Chhmar all the more interesting and challenging.

However, I wasn't the only visitor to these temples in 2005. Architect Olivier Cunin, a researcher with the Centre for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, and photographer Baku Saito spent weeks at the site documenting each of the satellite temples, alongwith the main complex for their book, The Face Towers of Banteay Chmar. To-date, the book (pictured above) has only been published in Japan by Goto Shoin in Tokyo. However I did see a copy at the EFEO library in Siem Reap and the detail is incredible.

Angkor's Sacred Heritage

In September I mentioned the forthcoming exhibition to be held in Germany, called Angkor - Sacred Heritage of Cambodia. Read more here. It will run from mid-December until April 2007 in Bonn and then move to Berlin and Zurich. Some 130 pieces from the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the Angkor Conservation in Siem Reap and the Battambang museum will actually leave Cambodia while other objects will be loaned to the exhibition from the National Museum in Bangkok and the Guimet Museum in Paris. The 119 pieces from the National Museum in Phnom Penh include 59 stone, seven wooden and 43 bronze artworks, plus seven paintings and three palm-leaf books, and while the artworks are absent, the museum will replace them with items from its vast reserve collection, which are usually kept housed in the basement.

In the brand new issue of Orientations, the leading Asian art magazine (Vol 37, No 8, Nov/Dec issue), published in Hong Kong and available on subscription here, the joint curators of the exhibition, Helen Jessup and Wibke Lobo, highlight many objects which were archaeologically retrieved during the French colonial period in Cambodia. Ang Choulean explores the traditions of the linga in Cambodia, while Hab Touch and Lucie Folan of the National Museum describe instances where sculptures have been reconstituted through recent international efforts. In another article, Helen Jessup pays tribute to some of the individuals who have been responsible for Cambodia's current cultural renaissance, whilst Dougald O'Reilly comments on the looting of Cambodia's historic sites. This issue of Orientations, a specialist magazine that has been running for over thirty-five years, is a must for Cambodia enthusiasts.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

New books, MySpace and Skype

Book publishers Routledge bring out about 1,000 new books every year and have just published Expressions of Cambodia - The politics of tradition, identity and change. Its a 224 page look at contemporary Cambodian culture at home and abroad with international contributors like Robert Turnbull who looks at the revival of the traditional arts, or Ian Harris who investigates Cambodian Buddhism since the end of the DK regime. The editors are University of Sydney based Tim Winter and Siem Reap resident Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier. Also coming out of the Routledge stable this year have been Rice Plus and Family Solidarity by Susan H Lee, which focused on rural Cambodian widows, and Colonial Cambodia's Bad Frenchmen - The rise of French rule and the life story of Thomas Caraman 1840-1887. Gregor Mueller, who lives on an island in the Mekong, wrote the latter book.
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I can't recall whether I've mentioned it before, but a few months ago I joined the thousands who've registered themselves on MySpace.com and I have my own homepage at www.myspace.com/andybrouwer. Pop by and add me as a friend if you have nothing better to do! Actually, I've 'met' a bunch of very nice people through MySpace and you may be plesasantly surprised to find who else has a MySpace page.
On the 'connecting with friends around the world' theme, I've also just hooked up with Skype.com and you can skype me at And2007. I'm only on chat at the moment until I get off my butt and buy myself a headset and microphone. However, it's good to talk....

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Famous Khmer movie idols

Whilst surfing the net for information on Dy Saveth, I entered the world of the famous Khmer movie idols of the '60s and '70s, and in particular, the gorgeous Vichara Dany (pictured), who made 100's of films during those golden years of Cambodian movie-making but lost her life during the Khmer Rouge years, and actor Chea Yuthon. Whilst Vichara Dany was a darling of film fans in Cambodia, both Dy Saveth and Chea Yuthon were particularly well-known in neighbouring Thailand, mainly for their starring roles in the Pos Keng Kong (Snake Girl) movie, that spawned two follow-on films and an updated remake in the last few years. Its a Khmer folk tale that is loved in both countries.

The story behind Chea Yuthon is particularly intriguing, though I have only part of the story. There were rumours that he was still alive today and living in Thailand, his adopted country, but this is now believed to be false. The story goes that when the Khmer Rouge captured him and the Thais heard about it, they traded his life for a thousand trucks of oil that the Khmer Rouge badly needed. He was likened to a Khmer version of Jackie Chan due to his martial art skills. After a spell in China as a student, instead of becoming a civil engineer as was expected, he came back home to become a movie star and a martial arts expert. If anyone has more information about Vichara Dany or Chea Yuthon, please let me know.

Dy Saveth - Cambodia's Bridgette Bardot

I'm hoping someone can tell me more about one of Cambodia's most famous faces, movie actress Dy Saveth, who was dubbed the Cambodian Bridgette Bardot in her heyday and who at 62 years of age, has lost none of her vivacity and sparkle. Today Dy Saveth is a professor of fine arts at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and is sharing the secret of her success with Cambodia's next generation. Indeed, her latest film, The Crocodile, released in 2005 and directed by Mao Ayuth, is regarded as one of the country's finest for many years. Perhaps her most famous film role was as the Snake Girl in the 1971 adaptation of a Khmer folk tale, though she starred in a great many films including Crepuscule (Twilight), in 1969, a film directed by and starring Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Monique. Dy Saveth, a face known to all of Cambodia's cinema-goers in the '60s and '70s, managed to escape from the turmoil of Phnom Penh in 1975 and settled in France, one of the very few actors to survive the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge.

If you have more details about the life and career of Dy Saveth, please let me know.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Cambodia's Rock & Roll

A brand new film, currently in post production, is in the pipeline and focuses on the heady days of Cambodia's rock and roll years in the '60s and early '70s. Titled Don't Think I've Forgotten, the film celebrates the music and the people who created it, and who are alive today to tell the story. Director John Pirozzi is in charge, having been involved in Matt Dillon's film City of Ghosts that was set in Cambodia, and has also just finished shooting a film about the LA-based band Dengue Fever's first trip to Cambodia. Interest in this style of music is gathering pace and Dengue Fever are at the forefront of the revival. The film's website is here.
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Artist Sasha Constable has organised an exhibition, Building Peace, of de-commissioned weapons that have been sculpted into various forms by art students from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. The exhibition is taking place at the Hotel De La Paix in Siem Reap and runs til 22 November. Sasha is currently managing a new contemporary art gallery in Siem Reap promoting young Khmer artists, next to the old market, at The Art House. You can find out a lot more at their website. Thanks to Jinja for highlighting these snippets.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Recognition for Somaly Mam

You may recall that I highlighted the incredible work being done by one of Cambodia's very own heroines' Somaly Mam in a blog post in May. If you don't, click here. I desperately want to get hold of her book released earlier this year but its not been published in English so far. The latest news is that Somaly Mam was yesterday awarded a prestigious Woman of the Year Award by the US magazine Glamour at a ceremony in New York. The statement from Glamour reads: "Somaly Mam is an inspiration to women around the world. She overcame horrific childhood abuse and has devoted her life to rescuing other girls from similar fates. She's bringing the issue of sexual slavery to the attention of the world, thus giving the hundreds of thousands of children who are currently enslaved in brothels a real shot at a better life." Deserved praise and a deserved award, which is given each year to 'gutsy female leaders in their field who inspire us all'. The story of Somaly's work is told in this Glamour article, though be warned, the story has a real sting in it. Below is a photo of Somaly Mam, right, and a girl she saved from sexual slavery accepting the award at the 2006 ceremony in New York.

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