Monday, January 31, 2011

Best foot forward

Teacher Sam Savin (right) puts the classical dance troupe through its paces
Between teaching and guiding, my good friend Sam Savin found time for a photo
The Russei Keo headquarters of the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), choreographic arts faculty, is quite some way from the city out past Tuol Kork and the apartment blocks of Camko City. Once you arrive you'll be greeted by a series of large dark red buildings in a substantial complex that houses the dance and music faculties. The tinkling of instruments gives the game away and the classical dancers, who I'd purposely come to see, were hard at work in the large open-sided practice pavilion on the left-hand side. Sam Savin, one of the teachers and a current member of the RUFA classical dance troupe, was waiting to greet us and act as our unofficial guide as we fired a series of questions at her, whilst the practice sessions continued without missing a beat. The girls, all dressed in their traditional style sampots, were split into age groupings with the youngest at eight years old, up to 19 years. As well as Savin, I also spotted two of the country's very best dancers, Sam Sathya and Chey Chankethya, busy passing on their extensive knowledge to their eager students. There were other teachers present, a few of them cracking their bamboo rods to ensure the dancers kept time and shape. The sessions last for three hours from 7.30am five days a week and then in the afternoons, the students go to their classroom for regular school studies. Savin told us that most of the young girls who complete the twelve years of study want to go onto be teachers and this was confirmed when we posed the same question to a small group of 8 to 11 year olds, who were taking a break. Over 300 students are enrolled in classical, folk and masked dance classes as well as theatre and circus arts. Some are boarders though most make the journey out to the campus every morning from their homes in the city, though the area is regularly under water in the rainy season. We concentrated on the classical dancers for the most part but I also popped my head into one of the boys sessions as they went through their monkey dance routines and a bassac group that were singing for all their worth. It's a fascinating complex, a veritable hive of activity though it's the classical dancers, with their perfect poise and incredible dedication to their art that are the key attraction in my view. Visitors are welcome though it's best to call ahead and book yourself in as it's a school and university campus afterall and they have security staff at the main gate. I loved it and I'll be back again, just to see if I can spot the next starlets of the country's leading classical dance school.
Recently known for her contemporary work, Chey Chankethya (right) also teaches classical dance
This is the youngest age group class of 8 and 9 year olds - they were adorable
Chey Chankethya concentrated most of the morning with this select group of 7 students
Posture is all so important as one of the teachers drills this into a student
More training, this time hand gestures whilst sitting on the floor
Two of the students watch from the back of the class
Cambodia's best classical dancer, Sam Sathya gives 1-to-1 attention to her pupil
Two girls broke from the rest of their colleagues to practice some moves on their own
This small group was made up of a teacher and some girls who arrived late
All together now...
The open-sided dance pavilion at the RUFA headquarters in Russei Keo

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More from The Like Me's

click to enlarge
The all-girl band The Like Me's from California will be playing at Northbridge International School in Phnom Penh on Saturday 19 February at 4pm. Then they make their way to Siem Reap to take part in the Tribute to the Masters concerts at Angkor. They head back to Phnom Penh and a gig at Parkway on Thursday 3 March at 8pm. More at their website.


The future of dance

This group took time out to pose for a photo during this morning's session
The young dance students of the classical dance faculty at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) were perfection in the making as they practiced their art early this morning. I will bring you more from my visit to the school later today. In the meantime, here's a couple of pictures.
One on one tuition from Kong, one of the dance masters at RUFA, for this youngster

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Football comes first

With football returning to Phnom Penh last week and this weekend, it's been live matches at Olympic Stadium for much of Saturday and Sunday for me. I'm just home after watching two more matches that wrapped up the last 16 round of the Hun Sen Cup, with all of the fancied teams getting through to the quarter-finals. They won't be played for three weeks though as Cambodia has two international matches in the interim and so players are given the time off to represent their country. I met up with a couple of the national team players this morning for a coffee and a chat as I'm currently penning a magazine for Phnom Penh Crown - I'm the club's media officer - and both players play for the club and the nation. I picked their brains as to their careers to-date and their hopes and fears for Cambodian football in general. With the matches finishing after 6pm I wasn't able to get along to either Jim Laurie's lecture at Raffles or the Anjali House book launch. However, first thing tomorrow morning I'm scheduled to make a visit to the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) and in particular the faculty of choreographic arts and music on the outskirts of the city. I asked one of the RUFA teachers, Savin, who I've known for a few years, if I could take a look at the youngsters learning the ropes of both classical dance and folk dance and got the thumbs up, so I'm looking forward to that.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Worthy events

Sunday evening will see two worthy events taking place in Phnom Penh. At Meta House at 6pm the launch party of a new photographic book, Cambodia, Our Vision will take place by the NGO Anjali House. It's a book of photographs taken by the children from Anjali, a refuge that is home to nearly eighty underprivileged children between the ages of 4 and 16. The NGO was formed in 2005 and the children have been a part of the Angkor Photo Festival for the last few years, and the book is a collection of images taken during the 2008 and 2009 festivals. 220 pages, the book will retail for $35 with sales going directly towards the NGO's activities. After the book launch, Meta House will show the German-made movie Same Same But Different.
On the same day but an hour earlier, what promises to be a fascinating hour in the company of American journalist, broadcaster and writer Jim Laurie, who will present a lecture called Cambodia Now and Then - 40 years of Cambodia Watching. Laurie has spent most of the past 40 years reporting from Asia and Cambodia is a special place for him. This weekend he will travel to Kompong Cham to scatter the remains of his longtime Khmer friend, Soc Sinan, who died of cancer recently. Cambodia has a pull on Jim Laurie and on Sunday we will find out why. The lecture will take place at Raffles Hotel Le Royal Hotel at 5pm in the Sunflower Room. Don't miss it. Then on Tuesday, the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor will host Jim Laurie from 6pm for a repeat lecture. To find out nore about Jim Laurie, click here.

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More Bassac

Children of the Bassac from Nicolas Axelrod on Vimeo.

I continue to harp on about the weekly (every Thursday) performance at the National Museum in Phnom Penh by the Children of Bassac. The show is excellent, taking place between 7-8pm and as seating is limited, it's best to book beforehand to see this show, which includes both classical and folk dance and music. Sophea Chamroeun, one of the troupe's performers, who can also be found performing classical dance at Chayyam restaurant on Street 278 on a regular basis, is featured in this promo video about the group.

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On the dotted line

Pictured from LtoR: (Standing) Alphonso Martin, Selwyn Brown, Michael Riley, Steve Nesbitt, David Hinds. (Sitting) Tim Clark (MD Island Records), Ronnie McQueen, Basil Gabbidon, and Pete King (Steel Pulse Manager)
Continuing a look back at the formative years of my musical tastes and in particular a reggae band I've followed religiously since 1978, Steel Pulse. It was in January of that year that the music newspaper, Black Echoes reported that the band from Handsworth in Birmingham, who'd made such an impact in reggae circles as well as sharing the stage with the top punk acts at the time, had been signed by the mainstream record label, Island Records. The same label as their icon, Bob Marley. This is what Black Echoes reported on 21 January 1978.

Steel Pulse sign worldwide deal with Island
Steel Pulse have signed a long term world-wide deal with Island Records and their first single entitled Ku Klux Klan is scheduled for release within the next few weeks. The first 5,000 copies will be an extended 12" version and the group's first album will be released in early Spring. Steel Pulse have been rated as one of the best Reggae bands to emerge from Britain.

Tim Clark, managing director of Island Records said: "We are delighted to sign Steel Pulse. Their music is original and exciting and I'm sure their relationship with Island will be beneficial to both the band and the Company." Peter King, mamager of the band added: "The reason we signed with Island Records is that we were impressed with the way they handled Burning Spear when he came to Britain and we have full confidence in their commitments to Steel Pulse." The band are still touring Britain but have had to cancel the scheduled gig at the 100 Club on January 26.

Different variations of adverts for the band's first single released by Island Records in March 1978 and called Ku Klux Klan appeared in the most popular of the music newspapers at the time, the New Musical Express, during the month of its release. A limited edition of 5,000 12" copies of the single were produced. the A-pside was 6.45 minutes long and produced by Steve Lillywhite and Godwin Logie, whilst Bun Dem (6 minutes) was on the B-side. For the 7" single, the title track was 3.30 minutes in length with a dub version occupying the B-side. Lead singer David Hinds said of the single; "... that particular subject was in the papers at the time, as there was talk about the Grand Wizard coming over here to influence the head of the National Front. My imagination just got the better of me and I started imagining white extremists on the streets of Handsworth."
New Musical Express 15 April 1978 advert
New Musical Express 28 April 1978 advert

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aloof's revolution

Andrew Aloof's Handsworth Revolution album cover for Steel Pulse
The album cover for Steel Pulse's seminal July 1978 Handsworth Revolution album was based on an original concept idea from two of the band's members, former art students David Hinds and Basil Gabbidon. However, the final artwork and illustration on the album, bought and seen by hundreds of thousands of fans over the years, was actually the handiwork of artist Andrew Aloof. He recalls, "Bloomfield-Travis were the design company that got me involved. I'd just finished my graphic design degree and was doing well for myself as a freelance illustrator, in fact I'd already had my own exhibition, mostly with portrait and figure work. To be honest, I've done tens of thousands of pieces of artwork ranging from the Sunday Times and Radio Times, to the Royal Ballet to an album cover for Status Quo (Whatever You Want, 1979). I did a few record covers but I'd never heard of Steel Pulse when I was asked to do the artwork. The designers gave me a creative direction and briefing based on something like urban regeneration or suchlike but it was so long ago that I can't really remember. I don't even have a copy of the illustration and I certainly didn't realize the band were still going. Strangely, lots of people have commented on that particular cover, more so than any other album sleeve I've designed. It was the 2nd or 3rd record cover I'd done."
I've always felt that the sleeve design was more akin to an apocalyptic scenario where a handful of young survivors are left to carry on whilst all around them is destruction and chaos. The picture has stayed with me for more than thirty years and is something I can recall as instantly as the timeless Steel Pulse logo that you can see in the top left-hand corner of the record cover.
Andrew Aloof's Staus Quo album cover for Whatever You Want

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wait for it

February usually means a month of dance and artistic performances here in Cambodia. The national performing arts festival will take place next month, as will the French Cultural Center's Dansez Roam! series. Some of Cambodia's best dancers will be part of the latter's Chenla Theatre production on Friday 25th February and the next day, with Street Dances taking place along Sisowath Quay on 27th with some 20 dancers taking part. As part of the two week national festival, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will perform one of their rare pieces, Pamina Devi, in public here in Phnom Penh, though I don't have a date for it just yet. I recall that last year around this time I had a hell of a job trying to get hold of the festival calendar. Cambodian contemporary dance will also be taking a trip over to Canada, where the 2011 CanAsian international dance festival is being held towards the end of next month. Five Cambodian dancers, including Belle, will perform on two nights, 24 and 26 February at the Fleck Dance Theatre under the guidance of multi-discipline artist Peter Chin, in a collaboration with his Tribal Crackling Wind company.
The French Cultural Center will host on Thursday 10th February, Bruno Bruguier's long-awaited presentation of his latest work with his book on 'Sambor Prei Kuk and the archeological sites of the Tonlé Sap Basin,' which is being published by Editions du Mékong in conjunction with UNESCO.

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More food please

Karen Coates and her husband Jerry Redfern are regular visitors to Cambodia. In fact, Karen contributed to my own To Cambodia With Love book and her very own Cambodia Now is one of my favourite contemporary books about Cambodia. Click here to read a recent interview with Karen, mainly about food as that's her real passion in life. She's also working on two new projects; "Jerry and I are finishing work on two manuscripts to be published this year by ThingsAsian Press. Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos is a documentary project examining the effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO) remaining since the US bombings in Laos nearly 40 years ago. This Way More Better is a collection of travel stories spanning more than a decade." Keep your eyes peeled for both.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

With a difference

Author May-lee Chai's latest novel is Dragon Chica, a story of a Chinese Cambodian teenager experiencing the pains of growing up in her adopted country, USA. Chai is the Californian-born author of six books, including The Girl From Purple Mountain and the eldest daughter of an Irish American mother and Shanghai born father. At her San Francisco book launch last October she had The Like Me's play live in the bookshop. Now that's what I call a book launch with a difference.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Eating and dancing

Rumnea and yours truly at last night's wedding
Last night's wedding party was the full stop in what can only be described as a hectic week. The ATF at Koh Pich was exhausting as were the non-stop events I attended throughout the week and then a weekend of football was just what the doctor ordered to regain my sanity and I topped it off with yet another wedding party, which I attended with Rumnea to celebrate the union of one of her best friends from her schooldays, Soukheng to Heang. I arrived just after the first course had been served, as I spent the afternoon at Olympic Stadium watching my team, Phnom Penh Crown, progress to the quarter-finals of the Hun Sen Cup competition with a regulation 5-1 win. The dancing began before the food courses had been completed so it was a case of eating, dance, more eating, another dance and then some dessert. That's Cambodian weddings for you.
Rumnea had a great time with her old friends from the province of Kompong Thom
The bride Soukheng and groom Heang


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Catch The Like Me's live

The Like Me's, coming to Cambodia next month
The first chance to see the all-female band The Like Me's live in the flesh so to speak in Cambodia is just around the corner. They arrive in Phnom Penh in February and will be heading up to Siem Reap for two nights at the Tribute to the Masters concerts at Angkor (25 & 26) and then the FCC Siem Reap (27). I know of the band through their lead singer Laura Mam, who joined forces with Loren Alonzo, Helena Hong and Monique Coquilla in March 2009 to bring their pop sound, in English, Khmer and French, to audiences in the US. Now we'll all have the opportunity to catch them live. If you can't wait, then YouTube has a few videos from Laura and the girls for you to enjoy. And you can also find out more at their website.
Stop Press: The Like Me's will rock Phnom Penh at Parkway on Thursday 3 March at 8pm, if you can't make their gigs in Siem Reap. Great news. And proceeds will go towards Cambodian Living Arts and the Anvaya Initiative for overseas Khmers. Tickets are $8 in advance.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the scene

7 Days carried this photo from the TCWL book launch: LtoR: Nick, Mariam, Andy and Steve
The 7Days magazine that accompanies the Friday edition of the Phnom Penh Post carried a photo from the book launch of To Cambodia With Love in their On The Scene page. It was one of the pictures taken on the night by 7Days' regular what's on photographer Nick Sells. It was only the week before that TCWL got a 2-page review splash in the same magazine.
I doff my hat to reporters Phorn Bopha and Lucy Jordan from the Cambodia Daily's Weekend team. Their 4-page story on the work of retired kickboxing hero Ei Phouthang and his wife Saing Somaly in running a community center, soup kitchen and helping local youngsters, was an excellent article. Phouthang is one of Cambodia's sporting legends and the story was very touching.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Fashion tourism

This model had a lot of attitude and obviously loved her work. Her name is Touch Srey Leak.
Long-legged models in glittering gowns brought the Asean Tourism Forum 2011 to a close tonight at a gala dinner and closing ceremony at NagaWorld. The organisers mis-judged the numbers and some guests couldn't get a seat in the main dining room, instead they received free food and drink in one of the hotel's restaurants. The lucky ones that did manage to find a table placing were treated to speeches, a live band with singers, a series of awards and presentations to Khmers artists whilst eating and a fashion show that went down well with everyone. Not sure what it has to do with tourism but everyone seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. I sat with an eclectic group on my table including Pen Sam Ol, the vice dean of music at the royal university of fine arts, and his wife Khlot Vibolla, the head librarian at the national library. It's all too easy to pick holes but by and large the ATF was a great success for the Cambodian organisers in my view and though I'm not sure how much the event cost to put on, I think most of the participants will feel the same.
Saray Sakana, actress, singer and a stunning model at the NagaWorld fashion show
Long gowns and peacock feathers were much in evidence. This is film star Chorn Chan Leakhena.
The model in red is none other than film actress Keo Pich Pisey with one of the gown designers
A very unusual array of balls adorned this dress, worn by actress Mak Sen Sonita
This young lady reminded me of a milk maid from Holland
The fashion parade in full swing, obscured by the dry ice


Closing down

Student volunteers Sophen and Sophea collecting materials for their tourism studies at ATF
As I type, the Asean Tourism Forum 2011 is winding down. There's a closing ceremony at NagaWorld tonight and that is effectively it, aside from some post-ATF tours that some buyers and media are taking to Siem Reap and the coast. For the sellers, they will have to dismantle their booths after 6pm and zip off to the final party and the curtain will close on the biggest tourism gathering in Cambodia for years. There will be mixed feelings for many, some will have done some great business, others not, new networks formed and existing relationships strengthened, lots of wining and dining and I'm sure many hangovers for the late-night partygoers. They turned the aircon off in the exhibition hall this afternoon so everyone was left to sweat it out after a lunch hosted by the Ministry of Tourism. The Laos media briefing this morning focused on the Mekong Tourism Forum which will be held in Pakse in late May and will highlight the wonders to be found in southern Laos and then Laos will host the ATF in 2013, with 2012 being coined as Visit Laos Year. Many of the volunteer tourism students who've been helping out during ATF spent today visiting every booth to grab all the free literature and CDs they could get their hands on, as there will be some great promotional materials that will benefit their studies. So the black-shirted youngsters could be seen carrying armfuls of brochures, booklets, leaflets, etc all day long. An extra benefit from ATF. I'm off to the closing ceremony soon and here's some photos from today to keep you in the picture.
Burd, the assistant director of Sales from Raffles in Siem Reap
One of my very favourite hoteliers, Thanet from Tara Angkor in Siem Reap
Sinat from CCBEN was on the Mekong Tourism booth for ATF
More ladies from the hotel booths at ATF
Linda from Khiri Travel and Lina from Apsara Tours
Members of the Hanuman team popped into ATF for a quick looksee and team photo


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The visit

Prime Minister Hun Sen at today's ATF Travex
Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany arrive at ATF
The second day of the Travex trade show section of the Asean Tourism Forum 2011 went pretty much as expected. A merry-go-round of quick meetings between buyers and sellers, to see if longer working relationships were a possibility, dominated proceedings though the icing on the cake for many was the visit of prime minister Hun Sen, his wife and cabinet entourage, who spent an hour at the Travex in the middle of the afternoon. Security was tight as the PM arrived, headed straight for the Cambodia centerpiece, a replica of a gallery from Preah Vihear temple, but not before stopping to shake my hand as the only foreigner in a sea of Khmer faces. The press were out in force, with a rugby scrum of tv cameras and flashes popping every few seconds. A little earlier I met four girls kitted out in traditional Apsara style dresses and realized one of them was Tola, a dancer and teacher at the Royal University of Fine Arts. She was on stage for the opening ceremony a couple of days ago and will be off to dance in Japan towards the end of the month. When she is not jet-setting around the globe with her dance colleagues, she teaches every morning at the University alongside another friend of mine, Savin. I felt a bit sorry for them because their headdresses weighed a fair bit and they were waiting for the arrival of the VIP guests for at least a couple of hours beforehand. I also attended a couple more fact-filled but pointless country media briefings and spent some time meeting up with friendly faces from booths that I know well.
Following closely on the heels of a full day at ATF came the Khmer-language launch of Ambassador Sichan Siv's book, Golden Bones at Monument Books. A good crowd gathered to welcome this latest edition of the book, with the Ambassador in town as a guest of the ATF host committee. Amongst the array of interesting guests I met Narin Jameson who will soon publish a cookbook of Khmer recipes intertwined with stories of her Cambodian childhood. The evening ended with a garden party for friends of Hanuman with some lovely home-cooked food and conversation with some guest buyers from around the world.
Meeting 4 of the country's top classical dancers. LtoR: Tola Chap, Sophea, Sotheavy and Romanita.
Posing with the dancers in front of the Preah Vihear temple replica
All smiles from the members of the Hanuman team at their booth
With Malen Chea from Le Meridien Hotel
From the book launch of Golden Bones in Khmer, with Ambassador Sichan Siv
Sichan Siv (left) introduces Prince Sisowath Sirirath at tonight's book launch


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