Up close and personal
Labels: Meas Soksophea
Cambodia - Temples, Books, Films and ruminations...by Andy Brouwer
Labels: Meas Soksophea
Labels: Fabio Cannavaro
In August 1999, Steel Pulse were back on the road with Donna and Sylvia providing the backing vocals as the band returned to join a second Spirit of Unity Tour. Donna recalls, "David had said he wouldn't do another one because of the problems we'd had. All of a sudden another one came up and an opportunity to recoup some of the money we'd lost on the first one. We did it. On the second tour was Maxi Priest again, Third World, us and Monifah, a really good soul singer. We headlined again most nights, it was then that I really understood how big Steel Pulse were." The group headlined the world TEVA Spirit of Unity tour alongside Third World, Maxi Priest and Culture, visiting no less than 44 cities. To promote the event, they teamed up with Maxi Priest, Ras Shiloh, Joseph Hill and Third World to perform a medley of Bob Marley hits on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After completing coast to coast gigs in the States, the tour took in Barbados before moving across to Europe for a few concerts.
Pulse joined up with cable tv network BET in America for a series of tv commercials and on 17 August released a second live album, Living Legacy, for the WMD and Tuff Gong labels. The album, recorded at live concerts in France, Holland and Puerto Rico over a three year period, is a collection of their work over the last twenty years and was again nominated for a Grammy, their seventh such nomination. As Hinds expounds, "we deal with positive forces. It means putting aside the guns, the drugs and all of the things that are ailments of society. We're not here to start a physical revolution, we're just here to open everybody's eyes and let them check for themselves." When asked about the band's longevity, Hinds responded, "The secret is not so much the band, it's the concept. It doesn't matter who's in the band; in fact, there's been so many changes from day one til now, what's kept us together is the concept. There's three general backbones to the band - myself, Selwyn Brown and Steve Nisbett. As of late we've been introducing ourselves to a new audience, new as in going to new places, like in Africa. It has given the band a new lease of life, to be honest with you. We've been knocking around in the Western world through all that bureaucracy in the music business. Performing in Africa was more like a relaxing period for us. There was no industry to convince what we were about. It was just the hardcore fans living, eating, drinking, sleeping the music of Steel Pulse." Hinds was forthright in his views on reggae music. "We love Bob Marley, don't get me wrong. I'd say we love him more than most people do, because we toured with him, we spoke with him on his death bed. We lived his music, everything else, but reggae music doesn't stop at Bob Marley. The actual reality of it is, Marley was fortunate to get his foot in the door and there's been no stopping him or his family ever since. It's a shame no one else has looked at other acts in that light, as if Marley was the only one capable of writing lyrics. There's so many good lyric writers that have come through the reggae domain - Dennis Brown in his own kind of way, Jimmy Cliff with Vietnam and Harder They Come. There's other artists that aren't commercially viable, some of the old-timers, not to mention Burning Spear, who played a big part in moulding and inspiring Steel Pulse."
Much of 2000 saw the band touring extensively in the USA with stops in Anchorage, Alaska and two dates in Hawaii during a gruelling 40 date tour in 46 days. They also appeared at the Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the first time in three years. This included a first-ever visit by Donna to Jamaica, the home of her parents. "We went to play the Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay, my first time in Jamaica, with Morgan Heritage and Joe, an RnB singer. It was a two day festival in August. I'd heard all about Jamaica from my family, though I didn't get to see much of it on that trip. I remember that by the time we got on stage, it was nearly 4 o'clock in the morning, we were due on stage about six hours earlier. I know it was then because after we came off and changed, it was light and morning had arrived. The whole atmosphere was just terrific." They also joined the Bob Marley celebrations in Washington DC, at Reggae Sundance in Holland and a flying visit to La Reunion in the Pacific Ocean - touring and live shows remaining an integral part of Steel Pulse's repertoire. 2000 also saw the departure of Sylvia Tella to pursue her own solo career. "Sylvia had finished her own album (Tella Like It Is). We went to Dominica, then at the next rehearsal there was no Sylvia and Sidney told us that she'd gone to do her own stuff and that was that. I panicked even worse then. I realised I was on my own. Sylvia was the main vocalist out of me and her... I followed in her footsteps and at certain parts of the set, David would have her sing, like Blessed Is The Man, as the main vocalist. She hit some high notes that I could never reach, she hit them every night or at least she tried. When she left, David asked me to do it. I was like, 'no way, I can't do it' but he said 'Donna, be yourself, do your own thing.' The doubts returned. It was hard for me. I couldn't do it her way so I did it in my own RnB way, where it related to the youth of today, my age group and younger." It was Selwyn who gave Donna much needed support at that time and who'd taken on the role of mentor and her coach. "It gave me the opportunity to work more closely with Selwyn, who worked really hard with me. He gave up his free time and we did a lot of practicing, rehearsing and moulding that specific song to me, so that it suited me, made me unique in my own RnB way."
"David was going to bring in another female vocalist to replace Sylvia. I think his intention was to have three female singers. There was a girl called Monique, we clicked straight away, who joined us for a gig in Barcelona and a couple more in France. She was from Handsworth and had been with the group Black Voices. She also did a memorial with us in Birmingham at the Irish Center in Digbeth. We did three songs, Black & Proud, Black Enough? and Islands Unite. That was a nervous night for me, I was on home territory, people knew me and I was very nervous. A few local artists played. It was my one and only British gig with Steel Pulse." That was at the beginning of 2001 and they were in France and Spain, in June they appeared in Switzerland (Caribana festival), Belgium and France, and at the Montreal and Womad festivals in July. The Womad event in Seattle saw 40 artists from 22 countries take part including Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and the Neville Brothers. Grizzly Nisbett's final concert with Steel Pulse took place in San Diego in August 2001. He picks up the story, "towards the end of that year I started feeling chest pains on tour, but didn't feel them at home. I went to see a Doctor as they were bothering me. I had tests and he said is was Angina, too much pressure causing the heart to swell and I was told not to tour. I wasn't allowed to tour until they found out exactly what it was, and its been like that since. I was expecting him just to say have a rest, I didn't expect him to say stop touring full stop. The way we tour was too dangerous, rest periods were nil so he wouldn't allow me to tour. That was it. When I got home I cried. I enjoy being on the road, its a hell of a shock not touring. Even now I'm still eager to go back out there, but I'm more chilled now and involved in this whole record business and production and I find I'm enjoying that just as much. The only thing I'm really missing are the friends and contacts I've made out there. I don't miss all the crap that goes with touring, believe me I don't miss that. Stuck in an airport for a couple of days, sweating my balls off, I don't miss that. Its all part of the adventure and the fun. I'm still getting pains if I exert myself and I've got a test coming up soon, then I'll know if I'll need surgery or not."
Grizzly had been on the road, with Steel Pulse and other bands, for thirty-five years and its a career that he's very proud of. "Steel Pulse are very popular around the world. What the band is about, people don't see us as a band in it for the glory, we're a band that believes in what we're doing, believes in what we're saying and the fan knows it, feels it and believes it too. Whether in Paris or New York and points in between, everyone knows and loves Steel Pulse. Its a fact." He pays tribute to the fans of Steel Pulse. "Our fans throughout the world are great. Everybody we've met is like that. Nice people, who want us back and we want to go back. Lots of good, genuine friends, met lots of people, Kings and Presidents you never thought you'd meet. From the richest to the poorest and everybody in between. You learn about life. I would advise anybody to travel, you learn a lot more by travelling, about who you are and what's out there." A visit to Lima in Peru for a reggae festival, "it was freezing cold and I'd taken all my Summer clothes to wear!" brought an end to the first half of their coast to coast Stateside tour, as Donna recalls. "We'd landed back in Britain the day before September 11th after flying out of Newark airport," with the band immediately cancelling the second half of their tour as a mark of respect for the victims of the New York and Washington terrorist attacks. Concerts in Holland & France did take place but they cancelled scheduled visits to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Johannesburg (South Africa) as 2001 drew to a close.Chapter 12: Brand New Dawn (Equality, Liberty & Justice) - will follow next week.
The beginning of 1997 saw the release of Reggatta Mondatta, a reggae tribute to The Police with Pulse contributing Can't Stand Losing You, alongwith tracks from Aswad, Pato Banton and Ziggy Marley. February saw the release of a 30-track compilation, Sound System: The Island Anthology, showcasing their three albums for Island Records and a couple of rare unreleased tracks. Steel Pulse released another Grammy-nominated album, Rage & Fury, in August 1997, recording the 13-tracks at the Dub Factory in their hometown of Birmingham with co-producer Graham Dickson. The quintessential protest album, Steel Pulse recruited some of reggae's most creative rap and dancehall artists and it includes vocal contributions from Ruby Turner, Kevin Batchelor, Michael Franti and DJs Mega Banton, Jukie Ranks and Prezident Brown. It reaffirmed the group's commitment to fighting racial and social injustice and featured Conrad Kelly, a recruit to the Liberation Posse from their home city of Birmingham for the first time. Jamaican-born, Conrad was another former Handsworth Wood pupil who knew the band from their earliest days and joined them after serving his musical apprenticeship with Cornerstone, Ben Okafor, Ijahman Levi, Culture and Freddie McGregor. His first gig, on percussion, was in November 1994. Grizzly remembers the album, and Conrad. "I remember long sessions, lots of changes. We were pleased with the outcome but never really satisfied. After its mixed and finished there's always something that you could've done different, better. Graham Dickson was the producer, he has an ear for any type of music. We wanted a different flavour, that's why he came in. He became a friend of the band. As far as computers, a lot of what I know now as far as sampling, is from him. If someone said, who would you use to do a drum program pattern, I'd say Graham." As for Conrad. "He was in a band called Cornerstone, who used to rehearse across the road from us. He used to come over to see us. We're two drummers, I'm older than him but we've learnt from each other. His style is very similar to mine. We've known each other for years, he grew up with Steel Pulse, almost a member of the band long before he joined us. Came in on percussion to begin with and then we did the two drummer thing, half and half, I'd do one set and then swap over." It's a partnership and friendship that has remained strong since the two first met in the rehearsal basement at Linwood Road.
Their main single release from the Rage album was a bouncy cover version of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl. The album contained another cover, of their own classic protest song Ku Klux Klan, updated for a new generation of listeners. Tunes like House of Love, Spiritualize It and Peace Party were light and danceable. House of Love was about repairing a relationship and finding a deeper love. Spiritualize It, a beautiful, multi-influenced, reggae dance tune, with strong protest lyrics infused with hope and happiness, whilst Peace Party is a call for unity. Songs like Emotional Prisoner, Role Model and The Real Terrorist are more direct about their protest. Emotional Prisoner highlights slavery, describing the emotional chains that still exist even without slavery. Role Model laments the death, murder and falling down of good African American role models that has marred the past decade. Real Terrorist tells us that politicians working within the system, lying to get votes and power are the real terrorists of the world. I-Spy identifies one of the bad apples of society whilst Blame On Me describes the harrowing effects of false accusations. Rage & Fury showcases Steel Pulse's versatility and also includes two tracks that rejoice in black history, culture and identity, namely Black & Proud and Black Enough.
Another single release was their own cover of Dr Hook's When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman. Extensive touring continued apace and included appearances at fundraising events like MTV's Board-Aid and Los Angeles' environmental Waterman's Ball. They performed in Europe where they hooked up with tour manager Rich Nesin for the first time in Nijmegen in October 1997. Nesin had previously managed artists like Herb Alpert, Kiss, Peter Frampton and Blue Oyster Cult. Kenneth 'Toots' McLean provided backing vocals on the tour. By February 1998, the horn section of Jerry Johnson and Kevin Batchelor had departed to join Big Mountain, to be replaced by vocalists Sylvia Tella and Donna Sterling as the band kicked off the Spirit of Unity tour, alongside Shaggy, Buju Banton and Maxi Priest, playing 34 shows in a 50 day tour of the United States. Handsworth-born Donna Sterling came from a cabaret and RnB background, whilst Sylvia Tella had previous experience with Boney M, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Blow Monkeys and as a successful soloist. Grizzly recalls, "everyone always said why not try female vocals, so we said okay. Sylvia is an artist in her own right. The horns weren't there so the girls gave us a different flavour. It worked well, both are excellent singers, they added another dimension."
Initially it was Donna and a friend, Slim Banton, who'd auditioned at the band's Dean Street, Digbeth studio and had impressed David and Selwyn so much that they were taken on as backing singers for the group's impending three month tour of the United States in March. Up to that point Donna had no real experience of reggae, she was much more into soul and RnB and had not really heard of the band either, let alone being aware of their impressive history in the music business. Problems with his visa meant Slim was not able to take up the offer so a second female singer, Sylvia Tella was called into accompany Donna on vocals and the two met at rehearsals. It was a tough introduction for Donna, who takes over the story, "I was shitting bricks. This was way out of my league, as I'd not done reggae before... Slim, who's a fantastic singer, and I complimented each other so well, we'd been singing together for so long. It was both of us they wanted." As it turned out Slim Banton didn't make the trip but Sylvia Tella did, as Donna's vocal partner. "...I cried a lot of the time, I was homesick, it was hard... I met her at the rehearsal studios for the first time on the third day, we did a lot of rehearsing for a straight week or two, twelve hours a day, in a nice studio in Hockley. At first I thought she was great, I've got no problems, this woman is experienced, she knows what she's doing, she can teach me a lot, as I'm green. I didn't know what the hell I was getting myself into... Selwyn gave me a CD a week after the audition, music and words and everything. I learnt my bit, the words and remembering where I had to come in and not come in. Then I had to learn the nuances of the words and my pitching..."
"It was a hard three months on tour. I'd never experienced anything like it. Never. We're talking day in, day out. You get a break and you sleep. On my day off I'm in bed sleeping as I'm knackered. Rehearsals were in the afternoon, then catch some more sleep, then the buzz on stage and afterwards, from 9pm til probably 6 or 7am the next morning." Donna found the switch from cabaret performer in the Midlands into the harsh spotlight of a nationwide Spirit of Unity Tour with high-profile bands playing to audiences of thousands, very hard at first. "Vocally I was out of my depth, out of my league. Many times at the beginning I wanted to pull out. I said it was too much for me, but I stuck at it. I'd made a huge jump but I'd had so much practice at the stage work, cabaret work had taught me to be professional on stage and to be the person I am today." The tour kicked off in Hawaii with Steel Pulse part of a Spirit of Unity Tour of the States that also included Maxi Priest, Buju Banton, Shaggy and Beres Hammond. Donna already knew the legendary Maxi Priest as a friend of her family, had met him many times before and she felt a little less homesick when they embraced on the pitch at the stadium venue before the opening show in Hawaii. "I remember that Buju played football to relax and had his own cook, and we used to go to his room for food. All the different band members mingled and mixed together, that's a fun part of touring but behind closed doors its very political on a tour like that. Originally the tour was for three months, but everything abruptly stopped after two and a half months as there were money problems with the organisers. David vowed never to do it again." This first taste of the reggae world made a lasting impression on Donna. "It wised me up. It made me grow up. At the time I didn't realise how big Steel Pulse were. I thought Maxi was the main name but then I saw that Steel Pulse headlined the majority of the shows."
It had been a tough introduction for Donna, who recalls, "after the tour ended, I went home and cried my eyes out." Whilst a daunting prospect for the twenty-five year old, she had proved her worth to the band and teamed up again for their own tour of the States before they closed the year with a visit to Africa. It was the band's second visit to the continent after their ill-fated trip to Nigeria in 1982. For Donna it was a momentous occasion. "My first time in Africa, a real culture shock. I'd never seen so many black people in all my life in one place. My first Christmas in Africa, we were in Ghana on Christmas Day, we'd gone to the slave center where they'd shipped the slaves to America. We did a bit of sight-seeing, it was safe to go out by ourselves with no problems at all. We stayed for about two weeks playing in Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Dakar in Senegal, where we met the actor Danny Glover, and Accra in Ghana on Christmas Eve. We had a good crowd reaction. They knew every single word, in French, of our songs." Originally the band were due to play eight dates but reduced it to four as their trip coincided with the religious festival of Ramadan. David Hinds commented on their return to Africa, "it was a tremendous sight to behold and the ecstatic moral boost to our existence was so energising." Their visit to Senegal also included an emotional visit to the slave center at Goree Island.Chapter 11: Leaving A Legacy - will follow next week.
Labels: Phnom Penh Crown Elite Academy
Labels: Soma Norodom
Steel Pulse released their tenth album, Vex, which proved to be their last for MCA, in September 1994. Determined to return to their spiritual roots, the album was recorded in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and featured Diana King and deejays Tony Rebel, Macka B and Jukie Ranks. Kevin Batchelor rapped on Better Days and Micah Robinson took over trombone duties. Many of the tracks were mixed by Dennis Thompson, who'd worked with the band at various intervals over the years. Grizzly recalls, "we wanted a different flavour, different producer (Stephen Stewart), different setting, different everything and where else to go to record reggae but Jamaica. Some others helped out like Jukie Ranks and Macka B from Birmingham, who did their vocals over here." He points out, "if a track was not used on one album, it might be used further down the line. There's a cupboard full of unused songs written by David and Selwyn. Putting an album together was like putting a story together or like painting a picture. If some songs didn't fit, they wouldn't be used. In the early days, we'd do a show based on the album and would put in a couple of extra tracks that the audience hadn't heard before. Steel Pulse was and always will be an album band." Selwyn declared, "We reached a stage with the albums where we tried and tried and tried this crossover thing and basically got tired of it. When it didn't work, when it didn't cross over in a big way, we thought, 'this don't make no sense so let's just go back to what we're more accustomed to doing,' which is stuff like we're doing now on the Vex album...all those kind of tracks represent Steel Pulse more." This stance was echoed in the lyrics of the album track, Back To My Roots. 'We took that commercial road/searching for some fame and gold/and gained a whole wide world/and almost lost our souls./Some say we should have led the way/take it over from Bob Marley/got brainwashed by the system/what a heavy price we paid./It's time to go back/the way it was...back to my roots.' In May 1994 they'd appeared on the Late Night Show with Conan O'Brien and performed Let Freedom Ring, a tribute to Martin Luther King. Steel Pulse also spent that Summer headlining the 10th Reggae Sunsplash tour of the US with Maxi Priest, Europe, Japan with Big Mountain, visiting islands like Aruba, Lesser Antilles and Guam and a successful tour of Brazil and Argentina in July and August.
In 1995, a live performance of Blues Dance Raid alongwith another two dozen Reggae Sunsplash artists was captured on the documentary film, 'The Reggae Movie'. In April they played the Cayman Islands and during their end of year Caribbean tour were again refused entry into Dominica. Long-time manager Andy Bowen departed after thirteen years and following a period of reflection and a strategic rethink, David 'Dread' Hinds assumed control of the band's affairs, and alongwith the remaining core members, drummer Steve 'Grizzly' Nisbett and Selwyn 'Bumbo' Brown on keyboards, reactivated the Wise Man Doctrine (WMD) label and upgraded their rehearsal studio in Birmingham to recording premises to lay down their definitive Rastanthology compilation album in 1996. "Rastanthology was tracks that everyone liked. We put out a few feelers about what people would like to hear and that was the result," explains Grizzly. Earlier in the year Pulse toured extensively in the Caribbean and in January appeared at the 7th Hollywood Rock festivals in Brazil, in Sao Paulo (at Pacaembu Stadium on 21 January) and Rio de Janeiro (Apoteose Square on 26 January) alongside Page and Plant, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins. They also contributed the track Franklin's Tower to the Fire on the Mountain: Reggae celebrates the Grateful Dead album and I-Spy to the film soundtrack, Klash, a romantic thriller set in Jamaica. The group had been invited to play at the Atlanta Centennial Olympic celebrations on 27 July that year but Hinds cried off with a ruptured tendon in his shoulder and they fortunately avoided the deadly bomb blast that killed one and injured dozens as they listened to an open-air music concert in the early hours.
For the last seven years, Mr. Sak, an adviser to Battambang’s urban planning team and a part-time tour guide, has acted as a liaison between the German government and the local municipality to build awareness of Battambang’s architectural treasures. (Germany has offered the city assistance and expertise in creating new infrastructure, while protecting its old architecture.) Mr. Sak’s task is particularly relevant in today’s climate, as mass development, largely driven by Chinese investment and wealthy officials, transforms Cambodia’s towns, roads and landscapes.
In Battambang, the local government has taken matters into its own hands, with measures like an educational campaign that focuses on cultural heritage. Meanwhile, private financing is responsible for most building restoration, with the goals of attracting tourism and preserving this gem of a town. With a population of 140,000, Battambang is the country’s second-largest city, though few tourists make it here. Those who do are rewarded with one of the country’s greatest collections of historic structures, from decaying Angkorean temples surrounded by lotus ponds to modernist cinemas built during the country’s 1960s construction boom. They also gain access to one of the country’s richest artistic communities: Battambang has produced generations of artists, a legacy that residents are busy building on. “People are starting to feel proud of their city again,” said Mr. Sak.
I first visited Battambang in 2006 and fell in love with its crumbling charm and lush, picturesque countryside. Its dark, potholed streets and seedy guesthouses, though, weren’t so lovable. But when I heard that a preservation movement was under way, which included new boutique hotels, art galleries and restaurants, many housed in historic buildings, I decided to go back. The floods that hit Cambodia in the early fall delayed my plans. Though Battambang was mostly spared, several streets in the city were underwater, as were sections of the 180-mile route from Phnom Penh, the capital. (Conditions have since improved.) When I finally arrived in November, I spent my first night swathed in Old World charm at La Villa, a seven-room boutique hotel in a stunning two-story home built by a wealthy local tradesman in the 1930s and restored in 2005. Antique armoires, four-poster beds, richly patterned floor tiles and vintage ceiling lamps fill the space. Each night, the hotel’s restaurant serves tender steaks and fish curries to a mature European crowd seated at candlelit tables shaded by hundred-year-old trees.
The next morning I headed to the other side of the river and explored the Heritage Protection Area, a compact district defined by the municipal government in 2009. It’s populated by about 800 historical buildings, the largest collection in the country. I ducked into a squat, roughly 150-year-old Chinese temple with curved gables; the roof was partly collapsed but it was still active. Since most worshipers come in the afternoon, though, I had it to myself, snapping photos of the tattered red Chinese lanterns and colorful paintings on the walls. Nearby is Psar Nath, the city’s main market, housed in a faded yellow Art Deco edifice with a tiered roof and clock tower built in 1936. Shoppers closely inspect goods from glittering wedding apparel to recently killed chickens.
Peaceful as the town might be today, Battambang’s architectural vestiges bear testament to a tumultuous past. Over the last two centuries it has been ruled by Thailand and France. It enjoyed a brief period of freedom during the heady, post-independence days of the 1950s and ’60s before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Battambang province was one of the regime’s last strongholds — peace wouldn’t arrive until 1997, when the city began to pick up the pieces. Nevertheless, Battambang has produced some of the country’s most famous artists: the 1960s chanteuse Ros Sereysothea, whose popularity persists decades after her death; the late painter Vann Nath; and Chhom Nimol, the frontwoman of the Los Angeles-based indie rock band Dengue Fever.
“Even during Angkorean times, there was a strong, talented group here who wanted to create their own kingdom,” said Theanly Chov, 26, a painter who manages the nine-month-old Sammaki, one of the new galleries that exhibits young local artists. “The combination of cultures — Cambodian, Chinese, Thai, French — makes the city open-minded to art.” Last year, the local government restored a majestic mansion built for the last Thai governor in 1905. On the city’s narrow streets, private owners are sprucing up 1920s and ’30s shop houses and corner buildings and turning some of them into bars and cafes. And a few of the early 20th-century traditional wooden houses on stilts in and around the city are now open for tours.
In 2001, an Australian-Khmer couple, John and Sinouin Parker, transformed one of those homes into the Riverside Balcony Bar, which features an all-wood, open-air veranda. At sunset, a symphony of crickets mesmerizes, as the fading light bathes the surrounding river and towering palm trees. Anna Milligan, originally from Washington State, runs Café Eden in a renovated riverfront shop house. A year ago, Ms. Milligan opened the boho-chic nonprofit cafe, boutique and art space.
While snacking on French fries and peanut butter bars, visitors can gaze upon works by local artists, many of whom are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak, an arts school established in 1994 by a group of young Cambodians who met in a refugee camp during the 1980s. Tourists are welcome on the school grounds, a 10-minute tuk-tuk drive from the city center down a narrow road on the city’s outskirts, where teenagers play traditional Cambodian instruments and sinewy boys and girls practice juggling, tumbling and modern dance moves for the public performances the school hosts several nights a week. Phare has also become renowned for its fine arts program, which has trained many of the country’s rising young painters and sculptors, like Mao Soviet, who opened the Make Maek Gallery with his wife, Phin Sophorn, also an artist, in September. “Many local artists graduate from Phare and produce a lot of work, but then go to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap because there has been no space to show art,” said Mr. Soviet, a 31-year-old with disheveled hair. Make Maek is out to change that, organizing eight shows throughout the year for local and visiting international artists. The gallery has also spawned an artist-in-residency program.
To raise local awareness about the arts and to lure visitors to the gallery, Make Maek holds an event called “Make Light” every Saturday night, distributing sparklers to neighborhood children and curious passers-by for a half-hour street party, raucous by sleepy Battambang standards. (The city’s street lighting still leaves much to be desired). One of the guests at a recent “Make Light” event was Darren Swallow, a 46-year-old Welshman who has lived in Battambang since 2005. An active promoter of the local art scene and a founder of Sammaki, Mr. Swallow has organized several exhibitions of the city’s artists around Cambodia. “There’s still a ways to go here, but there’s such talent and energy,” he said. “It’s not hectic — you can really live for the moment in Battambang. And that moment stretches into a week for a lot of people.”
If you go: Battambang is a four- to five-hour drive from Phnom Penh by private car ($60; arrange through your hotel) or a six- to eight-hour boat ride from Siem Reap, starting at $20. (The U.S. dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia.) The small, pedestrian- and bike-friendly town is easy to navigate. Note that local drivers generally know the name of a business, not the street address.
Where to stay: La Villa’s spacious rooms ooze history and charm (855-53-730-151; lavilla-battambang.net) and start at $60 per night. The year-old Bambu Battambang Hotel (855-53-953-900; bambuhotel.com), a 10-minute walk from La Villa and a few minutes’ drive from the town center, has a resortlike feel. The 16 rooms, from $80 a night, are spread across four raised wooden houses. At the eco-friendly Sanctuary Villa (Chrey Kong Village; 855-972-167-168; sanctuaryvilla.derlengtours.com), just outside of town, the seven silk-accented bungalows surround a saltwater pool; rates from $86 per night. A mile from the town center, the eco-hotel Au Cabaret Vert (855-53-656-2000; aucabaretvert.fr), opened a year ago, has a restaurant that serves French fare. Doubles, $66.
Where to eat: Khmer Delight (one block south of Psar Nath; 855-12-671-911; entrees from $3) is a reliable spot for cheap, well-made local food, while Pomme d’Amour (63 Street 2.5; 855-12-415-513; entrees from $5) offers creative French-Khmer fusion cuisine. Café Eden (85 Street 1; 855-53-73-1525; entrees from $2.50) serves some of the best comfort food you’ll find in Cambodia. The Riverside Balcony Bar (about a mile south of the town center along the west bank of the Sangker River; 855-53-730-313) is easily Battambang’s most atmospheric spot for dollar drafts.
What to see and do: For a self-guided walking door of Battambang’s buildings, download the two free maps released last year by the nonprofit organization Khmer Architecture Tours. Som Sangva Sak (855-12-599-890) conducts private architectural city tours and trips to outlying temples in the countryside starting at $20 for a half day. The old wooden houses of Wat Kor are three miles outside of town; visitors can tour two homes with the French-speaking owners. English speakers should bring a guide. In January, the village’s first boutique hotel opens, Maisons Wat Kor (855-98-555-377; maisonswatkor.com; doubles from $70). Its eight rooms are in three buildings modeled on their historic neighbors. Check out works by local artists at Sammaki Gallery (87 Street 2.5; 855-17-968-050) and Make Maek Gallery (66 Street 2.5; 855-17-946-108). Visitors are welcome at Phare Ponleu Selpak (Anch Anh Village; 855-53-952-424); hourlong circus performances take place five times a week, starting at 7 p.m.; tickets are $8.
Labels: Hanuman Films
Labels: Eric de Vries
Steel Pulse toured the States alongwith Special Beat at the same time as their latest album Victims was released in June 1991, with contributions from Stevie Wonder (harmonica solo on Can't Get You) and Pato Banton (We Can Do It). Assisting on keyboards was fellow co-producer Paul Horton, Jimmy Haynes and Melvin Brown shared lead guitar duties and the horn section came courtesy of Paul Simm (trumpet), John Battrum (sax) and Frank Mysan (trombone). Soul of My Soul was released as a single from the album. "I recall a lot of re-writing and re-arrangements for Victims. David has very good ears. They're spot on. If he says something's wrong, he's right. It may be the timing, the groove, the feeling or the tuning is not right. He's a perfectionist, he hears things you don't and when he points it out to you, he's always right. You can't argue with him. We spent long hours in the studio, but its ours so we could come and go when we liked, sometimes 10am til 6am the next morning. Co-producing with the band was Paul Horton from Birmingham, who'd been a good friend of the band for a long-time. A musician who plays guitar, we knew he had studio skills and had his own studio no less," recalls Grizzly. The album was nominated for the Reggae Grammy award, which eventually went to Shabba Ranks.
In the same year, the group said goodbye to vocalist and percussionist Phonso Martin after fourteen years with the band. Grizzly believes, "he became business-headed. He'd always liked dabbling on the business-side of things, he went into a managment company and wanted to concentrate on that. I think he had a record label, a management company as well a boutique in London. Once he left the band he spent most of his time in the States but came to see us at a few shows." Meanwhile, Hinds took the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission to court for discrimination against black citizens and penned the single Taxi Driver as a permanent reminder. The $1 million lawsuit spawned a popular video at the time that included cameo appearances from Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, Branford Marsalis, C Thomas Howell, film-maker Robert Townsend and Sunsplash founder, Tony Johnson. Grizzly explains, "David tried to get a cab one day, something happened and he said I'll sue you guys. We did the whole Taxi thing and it took off. Everybody got involved, Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, everyone. No one had gone that far with the Taxi Commission in New York. It happens all the time, so we'd decided to do something about it. It was in the papers and on the tv, everything." Behind the publicity juggernaut that broke the story nationwide, that evetually saw the band playing at the White House, were publicity agents Lobeline, the company who also promoted the Reggae Sunsplash festivals.
Speaking in 1991 about the reasons for their success, David Hinds told High Times, 'If you go back into the '70s and count all the reggae bands that existed then and still exist today as reggae bands - and I don't mean artists with a reggae backing band - you can probably count them on one hand. As opposed to following the trend, we've been a trendsetter. We've always had our own type of groove. We've worked upon it over the years and also adapted different styles along the way. So we've had a strong following and been respected as a group that's been around for some time saying something.' Hinds continues, 'Obviously subject matter is going to differ because of where one originates. One can only speak of one's environment and peers within that environment. Also, British reggae artists tend to feature a lot more instrumentation, especially around the mid-range, where there are more keyboard and guitar fills and a lot of harmony stacks. Where Jamaica leans more towards rhythm, English reggae tends to lean more towards melody and harmonies. Jamaican reggae is drum, bass, probably one countermelody and a skank with a lead vocal that very rarely has harmony added to it.'
Still under pressure from their record company to produce more commercially-acceptable crossover music, the band continued to tour extensively in the USA, the Caribbean including Reggae Sunsplash in August and the French Caribbean, a second visit to Japan, a first time trip to Australia (where in New Caledonia their equipment was confiscated and auctioned by customs) and Europe and produced a live album, Rastafari Centennial, recorded over three nights in Paris in January 1992, for which they received a third Grammy nomination on its release in September 1992. Lead guitarist Cliff 'Moonie' Pusey, with experience with Paula Abdul, The Family Stand, Aftershock and Maxi Priest, made his debut appearance on the album, having first joined the band in 1989, alongwith the horn section of Kevin Batchelor (trumpet), Jerry Johnson (sax) and Clark Gayton (trombone), who toured with the group at that time. Here's Grizzly's take on it. "Loony Moonie - we needed a guitarist. We'd seen a video of him play and we wanted a guitarist who was different. Sidney introduced him, he came along, showed us what he could do and we said yes. But we found out what he could really do when he got on stage. That's when Moonie really comes into his own. Kevin and Jerry are a good horn section. They'd been together for a long while. We used horns in the studio but not live. It made it more dynamic, a whole new range to the show, a new melody, new rhythm section and was an added attraction on stage. It took the show to a new level. Musically, it added so much to us, they were performing, playing, they were singing. Kevin sings, raps, dances, he does everything."
In October 1992, Pulse guested on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, performing Taxi Driver. They then appeared at US President Bill Clinton's inauguration party on 20 January 1993, the first reggae band to attend such a prestigious event, alongside Barbara Streisand, George Clinton and Salt 'n' Pepa. Grizzly explains, "Steel Pulse and Salt 'n' Pepa were in Washington next door to the White House. [Bill] Clinton was trying to get back for our show but was held up. We played for him on the way to and from the inauguration. Al Gore was there though." The day before they were invited to the Jamaican Embassy in recognition of their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Hurricane Gilbert Appeal. Recording for their new album took place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in September 1993. It was during their time in Jamaica where they met the Prime Minister P J Patterson.Chapter 9: Roots Resurrection - will follow next week.