Monday, October 31, 2011

Enemies release

Brother No 2 Nuon Chea admits on film for the first time, his part in the Khmer Rouge bloodbath
The documentary that has garnered a massive amount of publicity since its release, Enemies of the People, will be released as a 2-disc special edition DVD on the 15th of this month and will include an additional six hours of extra features and an illustrated 28-page booklet. Produced by Cambodian jouno Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin, it takes the dogged Sambath around Cambodia, talking to Khmer Rouge rank and file as well as Brother number 2 Nuon Chea, about the policies and practices they employed to 'deal' with their enemies. His intimate discussions with Nuon Chea, over 1,000+ hours, before his arrest and detention awaiting trial for crimes against humanity, took at least three years to get the former KR leader to admit his part in the bloodbath on film, after first winning the former leaders' trust and acceptance. Sambath also took former killers back to the scenes of their crimes and recorded their testimony, including the revelation that human gall-bladders were eaten on regular occasions by some. Both the film and Sambath have won awards for this investigative journalism documentary, and a book, Behind the Killing Fields, has also been promised, though I haven't seen it yet. A follow-up film, Suspicious Minds, about the political conflict at the heart of the Khmer Rouge, is in the works.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Swimming with Wijers

Another new book landed in my lap today. Gina Wijers experience of Cambodia began whilst on a two-year placement with a volunteer organization. It prompted her to put pen to paper to document her highs and lows, in what she calls her reports from Cambodia. These were initially published in Holland in 2009 but have now been printed in English, through AnyPress, and released this month. The book, Swimming in Uncharted Waters, is a 180-page personal account from Gina, who questions whether foreigners can ever really make the difference they want to make in this country. SiUW is available at Monument Books in Phnom Penh and Gina is working on her PhD research enquiring into Camnodian returnees as institutional entrepreneurs. There will be a book launch at Monument with Gina on Thursday 24 November from 6pm onwards.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Birthday bash

Soma, the birthday girl in the center with Rumnea on the right
Soma Norodom enjoyed a birthday bash that knocked spots off any birthday party I've attended before. The celebration, at Diamond Island last night, was attended by the good and the great, and I sneaked an invite too. Pou Khlaing was the evening's MC in his own inimitable style and a succession of singers included the golden voice of tenor Sethisak Khuon, 60's sensation Siengdy and the youthful Rock Boys. The tasty food was courtesy of Luu Meng's culinary crew and I think a good time was had by all. My suit got only it's second airing in four years and my date, Rumnea, looked fabulous in her own creation.
Rumnea and I were one of the first guests to arrive for the party
Pou Khlaing (right), one of the most popular performers in Cambodia, was the party MC

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Heading for disaster

He's had more lives than your average cat, Cambodia's national team coach, Lee Ta-Hoon
The feeling that Cambodia are heading for a disaster in the upcoming SEA Games is getting stronger by the minute. I saw for myself in 2009 how seriously the other teams in southeast Asia take this competition and how prepared their football teams are. Even though its played at U-23 level, countries like Vietnam and Thailand are determined to show their regional sporting strength and play as if their lives depended on it. Cambodia's team, who lost 1-0 to Nepal last night, and it wasn't Nepal's full senior squad in action whatever anyone tries to tell you, showed little in the way of sparkle considering they have this important competition just days away. In fact, Lee Tae-Hoon's teams rarely show anything resembling the kind of football that will get the Cambodian public on the edge of their seats. If there was ever a tide, it's definitely turned against the South Korean coach who has been responsible for a series of disappointing results in various competitions over the past 14 months. His suggestion that the World Cup was unimportant compared to the SEA Games may just be about to explode in his face, judging by the strength of the teams Cambodia will soon find themselves up against. For the players sake, I hope they do well and can hold their heads up, but frankly, I fear the worst. I simply don't believe the Korean has the tactical nous against the standard of opposition they will face, or the motivational skills to pump his team up for these high pressure matches. He has made his own bed and now has to lie in it, especially after refusing to include proven quality players like Khim Borey in his gameplan. The football federation in Cambodia must shoulder the blame for what's about to happen. They appointed an unproven and inexperienced coach because he came with the blessing, and financial backing, of the South Korean FA. Essentially, you get what you pay for and with Cambodia not footing the coach's salary, I'm sure you get the picture. It's too late to change anything now, we missed that particular boat long ago, and we'll just have to ride out the storm that's just about to break. So I suggest we batten down the hatches, because it's going to be a very rough ride in Jakarta.
Here are two photos from last night's 1-0 defeat friendly international to Nepal. Judging by the lethargic performance, it was one game too many following the BIDC Cup tournament and I hear that the coach was bemoaning a few injuries his team have picked up. Let's hope they clear up over the next few days before the team take on the hosts Indonesia on 7 November. Apologies for the picture quality, my camera doesn't like night-time.
The Cambodian team line-up for the press, and my piss-poor camera

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Shakira on the mark

Staying loosely on the theme of Steel Pulse for a few moments. The lovely Shakira Martin is the current Miss Jamaica Universe beauty queen. But she's no ordinary, run-of-the-mill beauty goddess. Shakira, 25, is a victim of the Sickle Cell disease and a committed advocate for the cause. Born in New York, she was raised between Florida and Jamaica, and has been a pre-school teacher for many years. She followed up her success by representing Jamaica at the Miss Universe international pageant. The tie-in with Steel Pulse? She is one of four children of vocalist Phonso Martin who spent fourteen years with the band, from their earliest days up until 1991. When compiling my biography on the band, I tried in vain to track down Phonso for an interview, but he was more of a recluse than Howard Hughes ever was.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steel Pulse - Chapter 1

Steel Pulse in all their early 1975 glory. LtoR: Selwyn Brown, David Hinds, Michael Riley, Basil Gabbidon; [front row] Ronnie McQueen, Colin Gabbidon.
For a long while I had planned to author a biography of the world's best reggae band, Steel Pulse. I interviewed many of the band's former members but never managed to tie down the two men who would've enhanced my research considerably, namely David Hinds and Selwyn Brown, who are both still with the band today. Now that I live in Cambodia, my research has come to an end. Nevertheless, rather than let my notes gather dust in a corner of the room, I thought I would release each chapter on my blog, on a weekly basis, just to give everyone an insight into this incredible musical group. So let's begin with Chapter 1 of thirteen.

STEEL PULSE - A Lifetime of Revolution

Chapter 1 : Linwood Road Runnings

The Handsworth district of Birmingham is rightly credited as the birthplace of Steel Pulse, Britain's premier reggae group. Though the story of the band's roots also stretch far across the Atlantic Ocean to the beautiful but tiny rural community of Buff Bay, on the northeastern coast of Jamaica. Overlooking the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Buff Bay lies at the foot of the mist-shrouded Blue Mountains, famed for their coffee beans and bananas. That's where Basil Glendon Gabbidon was born on 29 October 1955, the eldest of four talented Gabbidon brothers. Soon after his birth, the family moved to the island's bustling capital Kingston, where his father Joseph, a carpenter by trade, built the family home between his appearances on the stage as an amateur entertainer, actor and comedian. His brother Colin was born ten days short of Basil's second birthday and they both spent most of their early childhood in the coastal parish of St Mary's at the home of their grandmother with two other brothers and a multitude of cousins. Colin recalls much of their time in the lush countryside revolved around getting into mischief and having lots of fun. Their father and mother, Dorothy, a nurse, were no different to many of their fellow Jamaicans in believing that The Mother Country (England) held the promise of a better life. Many Jamaicans had fought for Britain in the Second World War and in the late fifties Basil's father joined the back-end of the 'Windrush' generation of Jamaican and West Indian immigrants who poured over to England in search of work and a better future, followed a couple of years later by his mother. Soon after Jamaican independence, in 1963, Basil accompanied by Colin, followed their parents to Britain, just before his ninth birthday. "My dad picked us up at the airport with a bowler hat on. I thought, oh, we must be in England, he's wearing a bowler hat," Basil recalls. Before their arrival, their parents had lived in Cardiff but when the boys joined them, they moved to become part of a thriving Afro-Caribbean community in the Birmingham inner city area of Handsworth.

Their first home, in Alfred Road, was in the centre of their community. Colin attended Rookery Road junior school, where he enjoyed football and cycling and where his artistic flair soon became evident at a young age when his drawing of a tea plantation impressed his teachers. As he explains, "I was already developing an identity and was showing others how to draw. But Basil was a brilliant artist, much better than me at the time, on a different level. His sketching was just so good, his drawing would 'get up from the page' which meant it was very good." Once Colin moved to Handsworth Wood Boys school in Church Lane, the input from specialist art teachers honed his skills and he soon learnt how to paint correctly. One of his sidelines was drawing, and selling, pictures of the pop idols of the time like David Cassidy and Michael Jackson, to the girls in the school next door. That made the otherwise shy and reserved youngster, very popular. Colin enjoyed life at Handsworth Wood. He loved his art lessons and his sports, playing for the school at football and also representing them at cross-country. He also took part in the sprint relays though never reached the heady heights of Basil, whose own sporting prowess was exceptional.

It had taken Basil a while to adjust to his new surroundings including the freezing weather after the carefree lifestyle he'd known in the Caribbean. School was simply so different to what he'd been used to. The teaching methods and the whole concept was totally alien to him and it took a year or so to settle into the rhythm of life in England. His secondary school education began at Handsworth Wood Boys school and that's where Basil began to prosper and blossom. He was fortunate that in his words, "all the bright kids went to that school at the same time, it was just pure energy" and included amongst his schoolfriends was David Hinds, who would loom large in Basil's formative years. "Handsworth Wood was a good school. One of the first things they did was to find out what you could do, what you were good at. I wanted to play the trumpet but couldn't blow it, so took up the trombone instead. In a way its the nicest brass instrument to play and it gave me a vibe for electric guitar, a sort of natural progression." John Surtees, his school music teacher and a folk club held at the school were additional influences at that time and helped him to read music and gain a better appreciation of what he was hearing and playing.

In addition to playing the trombone in the school's brass band, Basil had become interested in the guitar at the same time. His desire to play music was all consuming. His father had an old guitar with broken strings and Basil took up the challenge. He repaired the strings, bought himself a book of guitar chords and learnt to play the guitar from scratch. "Its not like today, we made things happen ourselves," as he recalls teaching himself to play. Initially, Basil wasn't interested in reggae. It was still a relatively new form of music coming over from Jamaica and instead, the music mad youngster preferred heavier tunes from the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, Mandrill and the Isley Brothers. "We turned on the radio and listened to pop music and the Stones, I liked the way they performed their songs. I didn't like the Beatles 'cause everyone else liked them." One of the first reggae tunes to catch his ear was a reggae version of Blue Moon, the old Rogers & Hart classic. Another tune that had a bigger impact on him was Blood & Fire. Released in 1970 by Niney The Observer (aka Winston Holness, but called Niney when he lost a thumb in a workshop accident), it was amongst the avalanche of sound system pre-releases that found their way to Britain and were eagerly snapped up by the flourishing Caribbean communities. However, it wasn't until Bob Marley's classic 1973 album, Catch A Fire was released that Basil was finally hooked after he heard it played in a local park during a festival, and his desire to play reggae music became a serious aim.

Music wasn't the only interest that Basil enjoyed at Handsworth Wood. He was sports mad. He represented the school at table tennis and football and loved basketball. He was even better at cricket, both as a batsman and a bowler, and went onto represent the East Midlands against their West Midlands rivals in a schools championship game at Edgbaston. However his will to win and a desire to succeed was never more evident than when he was running. "I picked the hurdles 'cause everyone could sprint but the hurdles required a certain technique, discipline, commitment and a bit of bravery. The 110 metres hurdles wasn't as glamorous as the 100 metre dash but I enjoyed it." He ran for the school, he ran for his district, Aston, he then went onto run for Birmingham in the Warwickshire games and then for Warwickshire in the English Schools Championships. He was on a roll and he didn't stop until he achieved his aim, to be the best. In the 1973 Championship finals held at Bebington, Basil ran the 110 metres high hurdles in 15.2 seconds to win the title of Schools Champion of England, a considerable feat in anyone's book. He was 17 years old at the time, he trained two nights a week with his local athletics club Birchfield Harriers and took part in track meetings but it wasn't his first love. "Training was quite hard. If I could've made a living at it I would've continued but I loved music too much. And I knew that we'd make it."

Music had been a constant with Colin and Basil from an early age. Alongwith a neighbour, Donald Perrin, they practised Johnny Nash songs, with Basil on guitar accompanying the other two, singing and day-dreaming of getting their break on the tv show, Opportunity Knocks. Basil was a self-taught guitarist, though at this time, Colin hadn't picked up on an instrument. The influence of an older cousin, Rupert, who they went to watch play in his band, a local reggae outfit called Cock & The Woodpecker's, alongwith the music of the Jackson Five, planted the seed of an idea in Colin's head that he wanted to play drums. Without the funds to take his dream any further at the time, he carved his own drumsticks and practised on his parent's kitchen chairs or a large wooden box. In fact, when Colin and the other members of Steel Pulse began rehearsing seriously, Colin was still using a wooden box to provide the rhythm beat. It wasn't until he left school and started working, that he was able to get his first drumkit.

While Basil and Colin had begun their journey on the sun-blessed island of Jamaica, David Hinds was born in Handsworth in June 1956. His parents, much like the Gabbidon family, had emigrated to the industrial heartland of England in the early 50's in search of work and a better life. They both came from St Ann's in Jamaica. "Our parents brought with them the native culture. Though we were the first generation of British-born blacks, we never really felt like British subjects. We all grew up within Jamaican households in a Jamaican community," states Hinds. David, the youngest son of seven children, was born into a working class Jamaican family. His father Charles was a welder and his mother a bicycle factory labourer, and he absorbed similar influences to the Gabbidon brothers, both musical, "we all thought Mandrill was the baddest band that ever walked the planet," and political, "the image of Malcolm X lying in a pool of blood had a major impact on me, as did the assassination of John F Kennedy and that of Martin Luther King." He developed his musical interest through his roadie brother and friendship with his guitar-playing schoolmate Basil. Hinds continues, "Basil placed the guitar in my hands. I heard Marley play guitar, I could relate. I played records, slowed them down until I caught that chord, that guitar lick. I learned the hard way. I didn't go to any school where someone sat down and started giving me manuscripts to dictate or notarize. It wasn't anything like that. It was me learning the grass roots way, the street way, where you literally played the record, listening to it over and over again."

When Colin Gabbidon wasn't at school, or playing table tennis at the Canon Street Church youth club, he and Basil would discuss ways of getting something going in a musical sense. Their thoughts turned to establishing a Gabbidon dynasty with their other two brothers to rival the Jackson's, or Basil would be teaching his friends how to play guitar in the kitchen of their terraced home at 69 Headingley Road and that's where they first began their jamming sessions with David Hinds. It was 1973 and they had dreams of making it big. Colin was still at school and had to make do with his wooden box as a substitute drumkit. To begin with, he was overlooked as the drummer and another schoolfriend was mentioned. However, the normally shy Colin surprised even himself by putting his foot down and demanded his place in the fledgling trio, which Basil and David accepted. They soon co-opted another school pal, Ronnie 'Stepper' McQueen and his bass guitar into the sessions. Ronnie, Jamaican-born, moved to Handsworth with his family as a toddler and had left school to learn his trade as a draftsman.

By this time Basil had reached the sixth form at Handsworth Wood. David Hinds was one of his closest friends and they both had Saturday jobs at the Co-op supermarket in Winson Green. They loved music and they loved art. So much so that they left Handsworth Wood and went to the Bournville College of Art to continue their studies. Basil took a one year vocational course in graphics with a plan to go into television advertising, although "it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be" he remembers. He left after his course finished and worked for a year at the Co-op as a full-time shop assistant. David, who joined Basil in the supermarket on Saturday's only, took a foundation course and moved onto the Art College at Margaret Street after a while to continue his studies. When they weren't working or studying, the two friends were consumed by their real passion, music. With the cash from his job, Basil bought his first electric guitar, a bright red Top Twenty, for the princely sum of £20. "My second guitar was black and looked like a Gibson but sounded nothing like it," he smiled, "and later I bought a WEM amp for £60 and a head box for £45. That was a lot of money in those days. Everybody used to plug into my amp and rehearse. I've always believed that if you invest you always get a return on it," and so it proved as they began to believe in themselves.

Their rehearsals moved to Ronnie's loft at his parent's home in Sandwell Road and Selwyn Brown, who'd returned to the area from Nottingham and worked for an insurance company, and Michael Riley soon joined the rapidly growing band. They were all former Handsworth Wood schoolfriends. Selwyn played the organ, Michael was a vocalist and another school chum, Trevor Christie, played percussion for a short while before moving away to live in Coventry. The lead singer was initially going to be Horace Ward, a soloist with the Handsworth Wood schoolchoir, who'd also joined in with the Basil and David guitar lessons, and though he rehearsed, he decided that singing reggae wasn't for him and left. Horace returned in 1976 as their roadie and sound engineer for their live gigs, remaining with the group for the next dozen years as engineer and production manager. Their fledgling sessions were mainly covers of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh tracks, some Ken Boothe and John Holt numbers and Marvin Gaye's Lets Get It On was a favourite. Colin and Basil liked all styles of music, from the pop charts to reggae to jazz. In fact jazz was Colin's first love. He recalls, "that's what helped us to later create our own individual style, that's why Steel Pulse were so totally different. When Basil bought Marley's Catch A Fire album, it was a big influence, a real eye-opener." He continues, "I studied Carlton Barrett's (Marley's drummer) style, as well as Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Harvey Mason and Steve Gadd, from the jazz point of view. We watched bands like Cock & the Woodpecker's and a local lover's rock band called Velvet Shadow, but our style was totally different to these bands. The Steel Pulse sound had a real hard edge to it."

Colin was now sixteen, it was the middle of 1974 and he was due to leave Handsworth Wood to join the workforce. His aim was to get a job and to buy his first drumkit. He managed both almost immediately. The job, as a trainee tool maker for a steel company, provided him with the funds to buy a four-shell Premier Olympic kit for around £100. He was ecstatic. "I kept it simple in the early days but played it loud and heavy. I remember that I played the bass drum so hard that I broke the foot pedal not long after I got the kit. It was cheap so I bought the proper Premier pedal, I was really excited. As I improved, I played around with the groove and the beat to keep it different and not repetitive." The drumkit took his music to a new level and he continued to paint in any spare moments when he wasn't working, rehearsing with the band or practising Aikido, a Japanese martial art he'd taken up around that time.

Coinciding with the arrival of Colin's new drums, the band moved their rehearsals to David's cellar at 16 Linwood Road, which was to be their base for the next few years. As Selwyn Brown recalls, "we used to rehearse in Ronnie's attic bedroom for a while. Then David's dad let us use his basement at Linwood Road, as we got more serious about it and just started practising and practising. We basically taught each other how to play, so there was no ego thing. We just wanted to play and enjoy music and inspire people and write something conscious." At the time, Basil and Selwyn were responsible for most of the lead vocals though Colin felt David could take on more of the mantle and did his best to persuade him to do so. Alongside covers of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, The Abyssinians and The Gladiators, there were early versions of their own compositions like Nyah Luv, Handsworth Revolution and a rock-soul track that Basil wrote called Conscious. Colin recalls, "Basil was writing a lot of music as was David. A lot of things were written in 1974. I think we were finding our identity, that was when we were clicking. We'd been together for less than a year and were working so fast. The excitement was high, we were anxious, we were keen, we wanted to express ourselves. We were serious and our music reflected what we were." The name of the band posed a problem, which was solved by Ronnie, who had a passion for horse-racing. He liked the name of one horse in particular, the Scobie Breasley-trained 1972 Irish Derby winner called Steel Pulse and suggested to the rest of the band that they take the name as their own. Everyone agreed. It seemed to fit perfectly.

It was now the right moment to expose the band to public scrutiny. Lee Allen, their advisor-cum-manager at the time and former keyboardist with local band The Phantoms, booked them their first live gig locally at a small working-class public house called the Crompton Arms. A hub for local bands at the time, the pub was located on Crompton Road in Lozells and the audience for their debut performance, in January 1975, numbered the pub's regulars and friends of the band. Selwyn did the majority of the lead vocals as they played a mix of cover versions by Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley and Ken Boothe and some dub numbers. The six-strong band line-up for that debut gig was Selwyn Brown, David Hinds, Michael Riley, Ronnie McQueen, Basil and Colin Gabbidon. It went well, Lee Allen recalls, "all hell let loose, everyone was so excited," the band received the princely sum of £20 for their efforts and they used it as a springboard for a handful of gigs at other local venue's like Barbarellas on Cumberland Street and the Grand Hotel in the city centre, the Ridgeway on Soho Road, the Tower Ballroom in Edgbaston, at former British heavyweight boxing champion Bunny Johnson's club in Digbeth before it burned down and they returned to their old school on one occasion to play a reunion gig.

It wasn't all plain sailing for the band. Even the black clubs put up barriers, especially against youths with dreadlocks. As Michael Riley points out, "they started saying, to get in the club [the Santa Rosa club in Handsworth] you had to wear a shirt with no hat and your hair combed out, which eliminated all Dreads and got all these artificial, snobbish black people to take over for a while. But there weren't enough, so they had to start allowing hats in again as long as they were allowed to look under them for locks first." At another club, the Jodori, just outside Handsworth, the band used to have to smuggle in the two of their members who had locks so that by the time the enraged owner saw them they were on stage and it was too late. Grizzly Nisbett backs up the story. "From the word go, we were not the average reggae band, playing lovers rock, so it made it difficult to play some black venues. On top of that some of us had dreads. I was the first to have dreads, so we used to sneak me into some of the clubs with a hat over my head and at the last minute, set my kit up and start playing before they realised. They thought we were too radical and didn't conform. We were about consciousness and for black people to learn who they are and what they are. We could play love songs anytime but we wanted to educate the masses like Marley and Spear did. We were hardcore, there were no half-measures, this was what we were about." Recalling their early struggles, David Hinds explains, "in our community at the time, our peers were questioning what we were trying to achieve becoming a reggae band. They were saying that we should stick to playing in basements until we got our act together because there was no reggae in Birmingham and no acts to identify with. The only reggae was coming out of Jamaica and London. We got involved with the punk scene and the Anti-Nazi League rallies because the punks were adopting anything the system was rejecting, which included reggae. There was never any airplay and always a limit to where we could perform."

The history of UK reggae dates back to the arrival of the first large wave of immigrants from the Caribbean in the late 50's and early 60's. The demand for music from their home shores was met by the newly formed labels like Island Records, R&B records, Blue Beat and later Pama and Trojan Records. By the late 60's Pama and Trojan both had chains of shops spread around London and both labels specialised in issuing productions from Jamaican artists/producers. Soon however, UK companies began financing their own productions. Pama had a great band in The Mohawks, but tended to make cover versions of current soul and pop hits hoping to emulate their success. Artists like Junior English, Winston Groovy and others were working as both recording and live acts. Laurel Aitken, Owen Gray and Roy Shirley were amongst those who had settled in the UK and a kind of reggae cabaret circuit was created. These concerts were attended by an age group spanning from teenagers to pensioners. During this period the flavour of recordings coming from Jamaica reflected the climate of political and social change on the island. It seemed people were crying out for an identity and change and the answer came largely through Rastafarianism. Reggae, for a long time called the 'sufferers music,' began to deliver songs with a message and spirituality. Black awareness and pride which had been gaining momentum in the USA spread to the Caribbean and the UK. For most hardcore reggae fans all real reggae had to come from Jamaica. The UK didn't have 'the sound'. It was regarded as soft. Early pioneers like The Cimarons, who'd begun as a backing band for visiting Jamaican acts were beginning to forge a distinctive UK sound. A momentum was building and slowly things were changing.

The early 70's saw a boom in the popularity of the sound system. Sir Coxsone, Duke Reid, Neville the Enchanter, Count Shelley, Fatman and many more around the country gave a focal point for local youths. A very distinct brand of homegrown roots music was emerging. One of the key movers and shakers was Dennis Bovell, a Barbadian who started the Sufferer Hi-Fi Sound System in North London and went onto form the band Matumbi in 1970. They quickly became a popular live act supplying the backing to visiting reggae artists such as Pat Kelly, Ken Boothe and I-Roy, as well as touring in their own right. Bovell, supposedly the ringleader of the 'Carib 12', was jailed in 1976 for his part in a raid on a Sound clash in London. He later recorded with session drummer Jah Bunny as The African Brothers and as African Stone. By the mid 70's the musical climate in the UK was certainly taking off. Jamaican reggae was arguably going through its most creative period. Brilliant new sounds were arriving from Jamaica on a weekly basis. There was also the emerging Punk Rock movement. The Clash and The Sex Pistols were formed and stated the enormous influence that reggae had on their music and outlook. Checking out reggae shows and going to sound system dances became a popular pastime for white youths.

In North London, Black Slate had formed in 1974 and toured with the likes of Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe. Their most influential release was Sticksman, which had been originally cut as a dubplate, its popularity gained it a full release and it became an underground classic. Sticksman was the phrase used at the time for a petty thief or mugger. Constantly touring, Black Slate became one of the most popular live reggae acts around Britain. More and more reggae bands were forming, not just session musicians as in Jamaica, but bands made up of friends and local musicians. In South London, Reggae Regular formed around the talented keyboard player George Fleah Clarke and they later signed a major deal with CBS Records. Aswad were formed in the Ladbroke Grove area of West London by Brinsley Forde, George Oban, Courtney Hemmings, Donald Benjamin and Angus Gaye. They forged a large and loyal live following and were snapped up by Island Records, before going onto have a long and successful career. In Southall, Misty in Roots, acknowledged for their legendary live shows, started their own People Unite label, touring relentlessly and refused to sign to a major label. Black Stones were a three-man vocal outfit, Brimstone included ex-Aswad duo Bunny McKenzie and Tony Robinson in their line-up, whilst The Cimarons, formed in the Harlesden area of London in the 60's, carried on their reggae ambassadorial role well into the latter part of the decade. And of course, Steel Pulse were making their mark as well.

With sound systems as the main avenue for the youths of Handsworth and the other Caribbean communities to hear their favourite music, the top systems like Quaker City, Mafia Hi-Fi and Studio City travelled around the country playing to packed audiences in clubs and 'blues' dances. Vying with each other for the latest pre-releases, they also bought unique dubplates from bands to play exclusively at these sessions and an emerging Steel Pulse were no exception although they were prudent in the number of dubplates they produced. Colin, buoyed by Steel Pulse's early success, suggested that they take their music to a major record label like Island even at this early stage though Basil curbed his younger brother's enthusiasm by saying the time wasn't right. The band were ambitious and passionate about their music but at the same time realistic and shrewd enough to realise that they had to perfect their unique sound before unleashing it on the public at large. Basil often said that to achieve lasting success they had to stand out from the rest and to have an 'international' sound that would appeal to as many people as possible. One of their attempts to present their unique sound was to call their particular style of music, 'Taffri'. It didn't catch on as other styles like punk rock or 2-Tone would in the future, but it demonstrated their acute desire to create something new and different.

Colin would often accompany Basil to watch other bands play. His own favourites were The Cimarons from London, though a couple of gigs they attended in 1975 were to have a significant impact on them both. A couple of years earlier they'd watched the Jackson Five at The Odeon in the city centre, but that was topped when in July 1975 they watched the great Bob Marley and the Wailers, who'd blown them away with his Catch A Fire album two years earlier and then followed that up with his subsequent releases, Burnin' and Natty Dread. His influence on their music was considerable. Marley's support act that night at The Odeon were Third World and the Gabbidon brothers were mightily impressed, with Basil exclaiming, "yes, that's the sound, that's the style I'm after." A couple of months later, the two brothers travelled down to the Notting Hill Carnival in London and were able to see another Third World performance and to speak to members of the band afterwards. Their friendship would last for many years to come.

Chapter 2 : Single Success - will follow next week.

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Serious lapses and incompetence

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is fast becoming a laughing stock (if it wasn't so serious a subject) with almost daily revelations of serious professional lapses by seemingly all concerned, with international judges disagreeing wildly with national Cambodian judges, who hold numerical sway when it comes to majority decisions, civil party applications being denied and flimsy rejections not holding water, following closure of investigations without suspects being questioned or even named. The ongoing farce is doing serious damage to the perception of the court as we approach the opening stages of case 002 next month, where Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister has already said he will not testify, and where his wife, Ieng Thirith, is almost certainly going to be deemed unfit to stand trial. In another development, lawyers for Nuon Chea have filed a complaint accusing Cambodian PM Hun Sen and other leading government figures of interfering in the proceedings. Delays, bullshit and incompetence have plagued the trial from the very beginning and justice and closure remain a long way off for ordinary Cambodians at this point in time.

The flooding throughout Cambodia, and other neighboring countries has been bad enough, ruining crops and livelihoods across the region, but the loss of life has been hard to swallow as more than 800 people have perished across five countries, more than a quarter of them children, all of whom have drowned. Experts believe three-quarters of children across Asia never learn to swim, despite living in a tropical region crisscrossed by rivers and canals. Most of the deaths occur in children younger than 5 who are too small to swim. It takes just a few seconds for a child to lose their footing and slip into the murky waters.

On a more cheery note, the Cambodian Space Project rockers are back in the groove at Mao's riverfront bar in Phnom Penh on Saturday 19 November for another final fix before they jet off for more adventures around the globe, heading to Jakarta, Singapore and then onto Australia in December and January. So that's Dengue Fever in Phnom Penh on 12 and 18 November (the band, not the disease) and then CSP on 19. Sounds like a lot of fun is just around the corner. And I've just heard that CSP will be playing La Croisette and Gasolina on 3 and 4 November as well. It just gets better.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reducing poverty

Cambolac is a name you'll hear more and more in the near future. They are seeking to reduce poverty by using a social business model to aid Siem Reap's poorer communities to help themselves. They plan to create 100 jobs by producing locally and selling locally. So what are they selling? Black lacquer boxes with pictures of Angkor scenes in lacquer on the top. It's a handicraft enterprise. Some of what is sold at Angkor today isn't made locally. Cambolac is changing that. Keep your eyes open for these boxes next time you are in Siem Reap. Find out more @ cambolac.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Living in a bubble

Khieu Samphan in the dock at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal; one of the heads in the corner belongs to Cambodia scholar Raoul Jenner, who was also in the audience
If you believe Khieu Samphan's version of events, he must've been living in a bubble during the Khmer Rouge control over Cambodia in the 70s and only heard about the deaths and massacres of his own people in the late 80s. Despite admitting to following Pol Pot around like a lap-dog, Samphan claims he was no more than a titular leader of the Khmer Rouge regime, chosen for his unifying qualities, and yet for 25 years he was the public face of the organization, whilst Pol Pot wielded all the power. His professed admiration, nay love, for Pol Pot was clear for all to see during the Facing Genocide documentary that I watched for the first time at Meta House this evening. I felt the filmmakers gave Samphan an easy time of it, asking few difficult or searching questions and portraying him in most, as an elderly grandfather wishing to see out his days, surrounded by his family and pottering around his garden. Not as the head of an organization that oversaw the deaths of around 2 million of their fellow countrymen. He brushed off questions about S-21, saying it was a small matter compared to the massive S-21 that was taking place in Kampuchea Krom. And the filmmakers let him get away with it. Jacques Vergès, Samphan’s defence-lawyer, came across as the brutish bully and media-whore that he's renowned for whilst So Socheat, Samphan's wife of 40 years, sounded like she too lived in the same bubble as her husband. Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. There was no apology, no remorse, no guilt admitted. I didn't believe a word of it.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Camp 32 teaser

In Search of Camp 32 - The Teaser from Camp 32 on Vimeo.

The In Search for Camp 32 team have sent me a link to a teaser for their forthcoming documentary film looking to highlight the existence of one of the rural camps set up by the Khmer Rouge, which has never been officially recognised. Camp 32 may've been responsible for the deaths of as many as 30,000 people during its existence and one of the survivors, Bunhom Chhorn, who was five years old at the time, wants their story to be told. More from the filmmakers here.


Saturday, October 22, 2011


YouTube is a fantastic resource for music videos, even the ones we'd rather forget. This one is from my fave band Steel Pulse during their bubble-gum pop stage following on from the release of their State of Emergency album in 1988. They were seeking a wider American audience appeal at the time. Well, that's their excuse. Lots of synthesizers, lots of experimentation. Their record label chose Reaching Out as the album's first single. A calypso-flavoured tune dedicated to the Caribbean Islands, written and sung by Phonso Martin, who had a great voice but was rarely used to sing lead vocals. Your House being the track most people remember him for. Phonso was with the band for fourteen years. The video for Reaching Out was directed by none other than Spike Lee, who also used a Steel Pulse track on his Do The Right Thing film.

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Jah Army

Talking of music, it's time for another blast from PercyDread, this time around it's his Jah Army tune. One of Nottingham's finest sons, and known forever as one half of the splendid Natural-Ites in the 1980s, PercyDread is still churning out great tunes, as evidenced by this track and his latest single, Dash Da Gun. I can't recommend this man's music highly enough. Check him out at his website.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Postage stamp

Belle (right) and the Sa Sa team take the audience applause at the end of tonight's performance
Hot, sweaty and cramped is how I would describe the viewing experience at The Sounding Room earlier this evening, as far too many people packed into the tiny confines of this new experimental, interactive sound installation room inside the White Building on Sothearos Boulevard. Performing on a postage stamp, Belle used every available inch to glide around the narrow space between the audience and the wall for her improvised dance piece, as David Gunn and other members of the Sa Sa Art Projects team created the impromptu sound using the available instruments and sound-effects microphones. Most of the crowd were foreigners, though a few Khmers joined in as did a gaggle of the neighborhood children, which is the cross-section of people that the Sa Sa team are looking to attract to this community project. Having someone of the calibre of Belle to kick-off their events programme always helps and her fluidity of movement despite the lack of space was extraordinary, as we've come to expect from this ultra-talented performer. Experimental music will be a tough sell to some of the residents of the ramshackle White Building, where the darkened hallways smell of piss and the area is less than salubrious at the best of times, but the Sa Sa team are determined to try something new for a community who have a historical reputation as a hotbed of the arts.
Viewing the instrument called Khim at The Sounding Room, where local residents are encouraged to come along and try out the musical installations

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Fever time

Dengue Fever's lead singer Chhom Nimol on her last visit in May 2010, with a starstruck fan
For all you Dengue Fever fans out there, their tour dates, that have been temptingly out of reach until now, have finally been released with Cambodia the beneficiary of 5 concerts, two of them in Phnom Penh and one each in Laos and Vietnam, during what they are calling their Electric Mekong tour. The FCC in Phnom Penh gets first dibs on 12 November, followed by a whistle-stop visit to Kampot's Epic Arts Center the following evening, then up to Siem Reap and the Hotel de la Paix on 15 November and at a venue to be decided in Battambang the following evening. Then it's back to Phnom Penh for a benefit gig for Cambodian Living Arts at Diamond Island, with special guests, on 18 November. The band have a breather until their next gig, in Vientiane (Laos) on 23 November and then their final concert, in Hanoi, at the American Club, on 26 November. Ticket prices, etc should be out pretty soon, once everything has been tied down - the important thing is the dates.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sunset cyclo

A cyclo driver at sunset amidst the construction boom
A few pictures from the sunset cyclo ride around town yesterday that took an hour and encompassed the Post Office area, Wat Phnom, Psar Chas, Psar Kandal, Royal Palace, Independence Monument, NagaWorld, the riverfront and ending at FCC for happy hour. Nice to see the city from the seat of a cyclo and the car fumes weren't nearly as bad as I thought they would be. As usual, the waves, smiles and hellos from people along the route were plentiful. The cyclos, there were sixteen in total, were provided by the Cyclo Centre folks, who are now known as the Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association.You can see a YouTube video of our actual cyclo ride here.
A look at the Royal Palace in shadow
Schools out on Street 13
Street level at Psar Chas
The streetside fish sellers at Psar Chas

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Caught in the act

The moment of realization that it's Jim behind the camera and under the helmet
That man-with-camera-about-town Jim Heston from Cali2 has done it again. Caught me in the act so to speak. This time, I wasn't in a local watering hole listening to 60s Khmer psycho pop, but in a cyclo during a whizz around the sights of the capital and just happened to come across Jim near Kandal market. I'm still not sure how he got these photos as he was all togged up with helmet and leathers and sat on his motorbike. Plus the fact that I saw him for no more than five seconds. This guy must have the eyes of a hawk. More from the cyclo ride in a separate post.
Jim must have one of those quick-fire shutter-thingys cuz I didn't even see him take a picture
I look a bit grumpy whilst on my way past Kandal market


Belle @ Sounding Room

Sa Sa Art Projects are celebrating the recent opening of their experimental, interactive sound installation project entitled The Sounding Room at the iconic White Building with a special performance this coming Friday at 6.30pm. Their special guest will be Belle (pictured above), who'll perform an improvised dance piece, for which she is of course renowned. Belle brought the house down at Chenla Theatre last weekend with her 'My Name is...!' show. The Sounding Room has been co-designed and co-created with a range of local participants, and will result in a flexible space that will host a variety of events. These will include improvised performances such as Belle's and special events, where audiences will enter the space and be invited to participate in spontaneous, collaborative pieces. The Sounding Room is one part of their ongoing project, New Building, an experimental community art project that explores creativity and self-expression in the complex communities of the White Building, located on Sothearos Boulevard. The Sounding Room is on the 2nd floor between the 4th and 5th set of stairs.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breakdancing and bridges

I paid a visit to the Tiny Toones headquarters today just to find out more about them, as a few overseas school groups had shown an interest in their work. They've been going a while now and have built up a good reputation locally, and rightfully so from what I could see. They are certainly more than just a breakdancing and hip-hop crew as the free classrooms of English, Khmer, computer and creative arts taking place during my visit testified. They use the arts and modern styles of music as a supplement to children's public schooling, where they are lucky enough to receive it, as well as integrating health prevention messages in a child-friendly and fun way. Peer mentors and outreach programs are how its done and giving hundreds of children a safe and supportive environment and a place to express themselves sounds like a winner to me. Behind the public face of Tiny Toones and their breakdancing crew, lies a lot of opportunities for underprivileged kids in and around Phnom Penh.
Kompong Thom has been one of the hardest hit provinces with the recent flooding in Cambodia and as an example, here are a couple of photos of the ancient Angkorian bridge of Spean Praptos at Kompong Kdei, which gives an example of how high the water levels have been in the province. One of the photos is of the bridge as it was yesterday (top) and the other was taken a few months ago during the dry season.
The ancient Spean Praptos bridge with water, pictured yesterday
The Spean Praptos bridge pictured in the dry season - quite a difference as you can see

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Revealing the past

The Vinh Hung tower in Bac Lieu, SW Vietnam
The only preserved Angkorian-style Khmer brick tower in southwest Vietnam, in the province of Bac Lieu, is the Vinh Hung tower, originally discovered by the French in 1911, with steles dating from the 9th century found at the site. The nine meter high structure is located about 20km from Bac Lieu city. Excavations at the site have revealed partial bronze and stone statues and further investigations, down to a depth of 2 meters, are currently taking place.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Weaving his magic

David Booth will be around for another twelve months
With so much crap news around at the moment, it's good to report that Phnom Penh Crown FC have signed their English head coach David Booth on an improved, twelve month contract that will cover all of next season. David brings that touch of no-nonsense, old school British grit and determination style of management that worked so well for Crown in the 2nd half of last season, culminating in winning the domestic league championship and going all the way to the AFC President's Cup Final, which for a Cambodian club, was a first in the top level of Asian footballing circles. Now he will have more preparation time with the team, be able to work his down-to-earth magic on individual members of his squad, bring in a few new faces of his own choice and mould a team that has his stamp on it. He did wonders in the four months he was in charge last season, so having a proper run at it next season augurs well for Crown.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dirty brown water

There's no distinction between the river (on the left) and the road
I haven't managed to get there yet, but the flooding is still affecting Siem Reap and with the tiny Siem Reap river bursting its banks, the road either side of the river as well as the old market area and pub street are still under a couple of inches of dirty brown water. Access to all of the temples is still possible but there's a lot of water lying about so be prepared for that if you are heading that way. Here's a couple of photos taken this weekend. Meanwhile in dry Phnom Penh, the final of the BIDC Cup took place in front of a big crowd at Olympic Stadium and for the first time in the competition, there was no rain. Myanmar produced a giantkilling act in the final, beating Thailand 2-1 after extra time, so a great day for the underdogs. They had a vociferous bunch of supporters who celebrated with them and when I asked a few of the girls, decked out in red, whether they came especially for the match, they told me they worked in Phnom Penh at one of the garment factories.
The usually busy old market area, devoid of life


Saturday, October 15, 2011

There's no mistaking the brilliant Belle

Trying to capture a moment of stillness in Belle's shows is extremely hard
For my birthday treat I went to watch Belle's latest dance show at Chenla Theatre under the Dansez! Roam! series, which was titled 'My Name Is...!' It was a very personal performance, a sort of 'This is your Life' but in dance. The show talked about Belle's life, the trials and tribulations, the good and the bad. Her fellow dancers brought vitality, humour, teamwork and brilliant timing, as well as bags of individual talent onto the stage in large measures while Belle, as always, is in a league of her own when it comes to interpretive dance. Her myriad dance styles, her quickness of movement, her bold statements, all display a unique talent that Cambodia has never seen before. It sounds glib to say she is breaking new ground and pushing boundaries but that's exactly what she does with each of her shows. Whether she can continue to draw on her own reservoir of personal memories for the focus of her performances remains to be seen. Perhaps her interpretations will need to find new avenues though whatever they are, her talent for taking contemporary dance to new and exciting levels will remain undiminished I'm sure. There is afterall, only so many times that you can bare your soul.
The opening scene from Belle's 'My Name Is...!'
A brief moment of dramatic acting was also accompanied by a song from Belle
Belle and her troupe of male dancers take the stage by storm
Belle and her mother, the force behind her daughter's performances, take the audience's plaudits


Darkened room please

There are some days when nothing goes right. I've had internet connection problems at home for the past three days, which is incredibly frustrating as I've got a lot of stuff to catch up with. The internet company have been particularly slow to fix it. I then get sent the DVD of the AFC President's Cup from AFC headquarters and it arrives with a crack through the disc, so its completely unplayable. I get into work and hey presto, the internet is on the blink as well. And it didn't help that Cambodia lost 2-1 to Thailand in the football yesterday afternoon. To cap it all I'm 52 today and I've got more grey hairs than I care to count. The biggest headache involves my former marital status which I'd prefer not to discuss until it's finalized but believe me, it's keeping me awake at nights. It's one of those days when I just should've stayed in bed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Inventing Shadows

In my spare time recently, I caught a few of the episodes of The Voice, which has just been shown in this part of the world, even though it was live in the States about four months ago. Runner-up Dia Frampton was very cute and really made an impression on everyone who saw her with her soulful voice. This is her own composition, Inventing Shadows, and it's very catchy. I hope you enjoy it, and take time to sing along. I do. sad that she didn't win the competition but Javier Colon, the winner was a damn fine vocalist too. Tough call.


Her name is...Belle

If, like me, you are a fan of Belle and her expressive contemporary dance style, then I would expect to see you at Chenla Theatre either later tonight or tomorrow night as she brings us a brand new work on the question of moral and physical identity in 'My Name is....!' part of the French Institute's Roam! Dansez! on-going series. Tickets are free from the French Cultural Center and Amrita offices and performances start at 7pm. You'd be a fool to miss it.
Sad to hear that this year's boat races as part of the Water Festival have been cancelled, though its understandable. The last thing anyone needs are more casualties with the water levels so high in Phnom Penh. Without the boat races to attract the hordes, the city might be considerably quieter than usual, though it will still be a national holiday and the usual concerts they put on will probably go ahead. There will also be a memorial ceremony for the people who died in last year's Koh Pich tragedy. And if the PM's desire to see the funds re-directed towards assisting the victims of the flooding happens, then that'll be a positive outcome.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Romeet opening

This painting by Sin Rithy, a portrait specialist, instantly reminded me of Tuol Sleng
I popped into the opening party for the Romeet gallery this evening, as did hundreds of others, all keen to see the works of art from the students of Phare Ponleu Selpak, the aristic school in Battambang that is causing a stir or two these days. It's a professional visual arts space on St 178, suitably close to the Fine Arts campus, that will house mainly contemporary artworks, paintings and sculptures, from the current and former students, and provide somewhere where they can sell their product. Previously, anyone interested in seeing and purchasing their art needed to travel to their Battambang headquarters. Greeting visitors tonight was a circus show in the street, PPS is also known for its fabulous circus entertainment as well as its art, and some live painting exhibitions. Judging by the heaving bodies in the gallery, interest in art is very much alive and well in Phnom Penh.
A double artwork by Battambang artist Pen Robit, who has exhibited in Thailand and France
Live painting on the street welcomed guests


855 Sports Mag

I had a sneak preview today at Cambodia's first-ever sports magazine which is currently under development and looks likely to hit the news-stands around the middle of next month. Sport gets limited coverage in the Khmer newspapers and online but a glossy magazine, published twice a month and devoted entirely to local and international sport, is something very new. The intention of the 855 Sports Magazine is to promote local sport from football to kick-boxing to tennis to swimming and many more sports, as well as introduce some of the country's sporting stars to the public and generally raise the profile of sport in the Kingdom, whilst also providing a window on the most popular sports worldwide. The magazine producers are looking to publish a 48-page edition every two weeks in Khmer language and available wherever you currently buy your newspaper. They will then look to provide some of the content on their website. It's certainly an ambitious move to promote and publicize sport and one which I hope the sports-mad fans in the country will support. There are more than enough glossy magazines on sale providing celebrity gossip, music and fashion, and sports deserves its place in the spotlight as well.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

S'Ville to get flights, at last

Cambodia Angkor Air have finally got their act together and from 14 December will be running return flights from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, opening up the southern coast of Cambodia to more people, at last. The airport at Sihanoukville was renovated at least a year ago, if not more, but it's taken this long for the Vietnam-friendly CAA to get their finger out of their ears and respond to the clamour from all sides to get the air route up and running. The flights will operate three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I'm sure that when flight seat bookings begin to take off (pun intended) then more scheduled services will be added. The only potential downside is that Phnom Penh may be sidelined and missed out of the loop as a result.
Flooding update: Siem Reap's old market area and pub street were underwater again yesterday, as were the roads along the riverbank and to the floating village of Chong Kneas. All of the Angkor temples are okay to visit though and all of the big hotels are open and dry. But we're getting rain most days now so conditions change by the hour. My photos of the riverfront yesterday show that Phnom Penh city has a few inches before it starts to get worried, whilst the rest of the countryside remains at risk, with floodwaters potentially taking another two weeks to recede, even with no further rainfall.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Riverside views

This Cham family cast their net in search of fish at the riverfront
A quick visit to the riverside at lunchtime today showed me how close the Tonle Sap river is to the top of the riverbank though Phnom Penh city itself has still managed to avoid the flooding being experienced elsewhere. Maybe the sand dredging is helping to expand the volume of water the rivers in front of the city can cope with. A Cham family were fishing so close to the riverbank in their boat that they were in competition with fishermen on the riverside who were trying to catch fish in wicker baskets. It seems the fish are in plentiful supply though that was the only boat on the river at lunchtime. You can see the sand dredging operation in the background of the top photo.
Inspecting their catch before depositing this fish into the hold of their boat
A look at the riverside stretching southwards
Sisowath Quay looking northwards with the water just a few steps from the top of the riverbank
The Royal Palace compound just before the afternoon rains arrive


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tits up

It's all gone tits up in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal with one of the co-investigating judges, Siegfried Blunk, resigning and throwing the spotlight firmly on interference from the Cambodia government as the key reason behind his decision. The reason doesn't come as a surprise but the judge's resignation does, as to the layman he appeared to be in sympathy with the government's position that cases 003 and 004 were not destined to ever take place. In April, the judge closed the file on case 003 without even interviewing the two main suspects, key witnesses or visiting the crime scenes. Last week Human Rights Watch called for his resignation. Today he did just that. Now it remains to be seen how this impacts on case 002, which will soon begin, and the other cases, which may never see the light of day.
I'm gutted to report that the flooding in Cambodia has now claimed the lives of more than 200 people, more than half are children, in the worst of its kind for a decade, with the local papers here suggesting that relief efforts for the one million people affected have been far too slow. In addition, there has been no request yet by the Cambodian government for international assistance even though foreign donors have been lining up to offer help. It's not affecting me in my first floor flat in the middle of Phnom Penh (otherwise known as my expat bubble) but elsewhere in the countryside, either side of the Mekong river or in places like Kompong Thom province, the worst hit, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are living with this nightmare day in, day out for the past month.
There was more BIDC Cup football this afternoon, but I didn't attend as I was working. However, the rain didn't relent and deluged the pitch around half-time in the first match. I saw the second game on television and the playing surface looked like a quagmire, which doesn't bode well for the remaining half a dozen games that will be played on the same pitch in the next few days. Whilst watching the tv, I noticed that adverts from the competition's main sponsors, the BIDC Bank were repeated countless times though I was left scratching my head at the Bank's key slogan, BIDC - Be Your Side, By Your Hand. I had absolutely no idea what that meant and even went on the Bank's website to see if that could enlighten me. It didn't. Is it a case of something lost in translation, or is it just me?

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Up and coming stars

Two of the younger CLA performers, both 13 years old
Some of the young and upcoming artists of the future, being coached and supported by Cambodian Living Arts, performed at Meta House tonight with a variety of classical and folk dances, music and short plays. A nice crowd had gathered and the youngsters, some in their early teens, others in their early twenties, were able to get good experience of playing in front of an audience. Most of them also had a chance to speak a little English in introducing themselves during the session entitled Young Tones of Bravery. It started with three monkeys, and went onto include a classical dance piece, the coconut folk dance, chapei, a guitarist from Kompong Chhnang and others. All very enjoyable, though not top of the range as these students are exactly that, students still learning the ropes, so this was effectively work in progress. Good nevertheless and great to see the youngsters enjoying the limelight. Earlier in the afternoon, the TVK channel had a music competition and I noticed that one of the entrants was Sophea Chamroeun, herself a product of the Cambodian Living Arts stable, who is a regular with the Children of Bassac group and at Chayyam restaurant. I caught her singing and dancing the cha-cha-cha.
Three classical dancers from CLA and I believe members of Children of Bassac
The team getting ready for their coconut folk dance routine
Sophea Chamroeun appears in a televised TVK music competition

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Young Tones

Meta House in Phnom Penh is the venue tomorrow (Sunday 9 Oct) for a series of performances of live dance, music and readings of short poetry and short stories in both Khmer and English, by a collection of students from Cambodian Living Arts, RUFA and the Bright Hope Institute. Titled, Young Tones of Bravery, it's a great platform for these youngsters to showcase their talent and their work to the public. A doff of my hat to Meta House. It all starts at 6pm.
Tonight was the re-run of my appearance on the PUC Radio talk Show but as is normal for a man of my age, I forgot to listen to it. I was still at the Olympic Stadium watching some very wet football when the program was replayed at 7pm. By the way today's football had a bit of everything. Cambodia won their game 2-0 against a nappy-wearing Laos team, but it rained so much that the match was ruined as a football spectacle, but made a nice water-slide event for the thousands of damp schoolchildren who were invited along. The second match gave us copious red cards, yellow cards, a pitch invasion, more rain, and a police escort for the referee, but then it was a match between Vietnam and China and they've been fighting for centuries.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

The fever is spreading

Singer Chhom Nimol and Dengue Fever on their last visit to Phnom Penh in May 2010
Though the exact details are still to be ironed out, American rockers Dengue Fever, with their psychedelic Khmer musical style harking back to the heady Sixties, have confirmed they will performing in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam next month. Exact venues and locations of the tour will be known soon, though the band are set to play in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Battambang and Siem Reap in Cambodia, Hanoi in Vietnam and Vientiane in Laos. Dubbed the Electric Mekong Tour, it will be Dengue Fever's third visit to Cambodia since the band’s formation. Earlier this year, the band released their fourth album, Cannibal Courtship and have toured the US, France and England to promote the release.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Website Problems

Grrr... There is a big problem with my own website at the moment. And one which I haven't been able to fix just yet. The front page appears to have been infected and if you click onto the opening page then it refuses to take you anywhere else. So the only way into the website at the moment is through the following links. Sorry about the inconvenience folks. I am trying to remedy it as soon as possible.
Cambodia Tales:
Steel Pulse:
More Music:
More Travel:

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