Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In the line of fire

It's all going smoothly for the MC, and the end is in sight
Today was the Phnom Penh Crown pre-season press conference, organized and MC'd by yours truly. If anyone is interested in hearing what took place, click here. I'm sure most of you couldn't give a toss, but it's important for the club to maintain their presence as the most professional outfit in Cambodia and it works. I switched on the tv tonight and the event was covered as the first sports item on the Bayon TV news, before the Barclays Premier League, which in my book is a result. If we can continue to get top billing for football and sport in Cambodia, then we're on the right track. Eight television stations covered the press conference today, jostling with numerous printed and online media attendees. We had to pay most of them to attend, but that's how it's done here in Cambodia, until we can get the reporters out of their entrenched 'envelope journalism' mindset. We will but it won't happen overnight. Amongst the photographers at the event, Huy Darith was kind enough to send me through some of his snaps, which he took during the hour-long conference. Enjoy, or not, as the case may be.
"I think this chap at the front is next."
Water swilling is always a good idea when filling in the time
Passing the mike to Crown coach David Booth
A look at the top table from the journo's perspective
"It's okay David, I don't think anyone can lip-read."
Vann Piseth and myself are both on the mike. No, it's not a DJ challenge.
Don't swallow the pen top by accident. It'll be very embarrassing.
David and myself practicing the 1,000 yard stare
A look at the assembled throng from the top table perspective

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Diversification

The Phnom Penh Crown headquarters and home to the Academy
Nothing much to report this weekend that isn't linked to football. I know when I mention that word, then anyone reading this blog automatically switches off. Hence why I have a separate football blog here. However... one of the interesting aspects of the local club I'm involved in, Phnom Penh Crown, is the diversification that's taking place. Its a professional football team with its own training headquarters outside of town in Tuol Kork, and where the club have 22 full-time Academy youngsters at u-14 age level, who are learning the trade of being a professional footballer, and at the same time receiving a private education, all out of the pocket of the club's wealthy president. We also have a club office on St 200, opposite the Bophana Center. In addition, there's the Crown Sports Bar, also on St 200, where we will hold our pre-season media press conference this coming Tuesday at 11am. Now, a new Phnom Penh Crown Restaurant is just about to open, directly opposite the main entrance of the Olympic Stadium, where all of the country's professional football takes place. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we don't open a club shop selling merchandise in the not too distant future, and anything else you care to think of. These are standard fare for top professional football clubs in other countries, but for Cambodia these are all '1sts' as Phnom Penh Crown attempts to pull Cambodian football kicking and screaming into the professional era.
Early morning sunrise over Crown's Tuol Kork training headquarters

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Sothy's insight

Detail from Chhim Sothy's dramatic painting, Angkar With Pineapple Eyes
Chhim Sothy's current exhibition, From Darkness to Light, at Meta House focuses on the trauma caused by the Khmer Rouge which he experienced in his childhood years, having been born in 1969. Chhim Sothy specializes in painting traditional Buddhist themes but in recent years, his abstract contemporary style has come more to the fore in his exhibited work, which is plenty. Here are a few examples of his art from his current exhibition, which switches between dark images of the Khmer Rouge nightmare to more hopeful and peaceful scenes.
The more upbeat Song After Civil War
More positive scenes in New Life
A cry for help in Call For Peace and Freedom
A map of Cambodia soaked in blood in The Darkness of Cambodia
Detail depicting a Khmer Rouge soldier in Prison Without Walls

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Comedy Club 13 Feb

Hopefully not unlucky for some. The next Comedy Club Cambodia offering. Tickets $10 from The Flicks as usual. It'll be bloody hard pushed to better the last comedy gig, but we live in hope. Tonight, Meta House have one of their 'green nights' and the selection includes Tom Fawthrop's Where Have All The Fish Gone? expose on dams and the Mekong River.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Packed house

LtoR: Bou Meng, man holding book, Khieu Kanharith, Chum Mey, Tom Fawthrop, Helen Jarvis
A packed auditorium at ACE this evening, listened to four speakers at the book launch, in the Khmer language, of the examination of how the Khmer Rouge Tribunal came into being and the rocky road it's had to survive to get to where it is today, warts and all. Getting Away With Genocide? by Helen Jarvis and Tom Fawthrop was first published back in 2004. It's taken until today to make it into Khmer, thanks to DC-Cam and the translators. Fawthrop and Jarvis explained how they first came up with the idea of the book in 1999 and in their research, interviewed 44 people with knowledge on the subject, to add to their own extensive awareness. Fawthrop for example, first came to Cambodia in 1981, where he met one of the evening's other speakers, Khieu Kanharith, then a fellow journalist, now the Minister of Information and the government's mouthpiece. The event was twenty minutes late in starting as the Minister made us wait for his arrival. With speakers and questions in both English and Khmer, the launch was bitty and hard to follow at times, but the book remains an invaluable resource for Khmers to understand more about the trial process, and a serialization in the daily Rasmea Kampuchea newspaper for the past three months, has brought it to the attention of many citizens. The audience included two survivors of Tuol Sleng, namely Chum Mey and Bou Meng as well as ambassadors and tribunal staff members alongside many Khmer students.
The book's co-authors, Helen Jarvis and Tom Fawthrop
The first speaker was HE Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Audio guides

Victims at Choeung Ek - picture taken in 1998
If you weren't aware, visitors to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek can now explore the site at their own pace with an audio handset. The broadcast is superbly produced and comes with an accompanying map of the site. You can use the audio tour in conjunction with your local tour guide for the best experience. Or simply take the tour yourself, on your tod. The tour begins with a general history of the Khmer Rouge rise to power and takeover on 17 April 1975. It continues with an intense interview with Chief Tuol Sleng interrogator Him Huy recounting his actions at the prison. Other sections deal with the mass grave sites and the foundation of key buildings that existed at that time. The podcast includes some harrowing survivor stories, including a lucid account from Youk Chhang, the Cambodian-American Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam). It is possible to listen to highlighted sections of the tour and complete the moving experience in about 30 minutes. Visitors who choose to listen to the complete audio tour will need to set aside about one hour. It is possible to pause and rewind at any time if you want to hear something again or share some thoughts with a pal. The audio tour includes music from renowned Cambodian composer Him Sophy. The cost of the audio tour is $5 including your entry fee. I wouldn't be surprised if this is adopted by Tuol Sleng in the not too distant future. And for that matter, the National Museum, where the in-house guides leave a lot to be desired.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Shaz pens the Penh

Shazia Mirza in action at Pontoon
The Comedy Club Cambodia (it's got a new name) will have it's third outing on Monday 13 February. Their first gig, back in December at Pontoon, included a Birmingham comic, that's a Brummie to those in the know, called Shazia Mirza, who is a writer (The Guardian, New Statesman) as well as a comic and she penned the following article in the Financial Times magazine here at the weekend, about her Cambodia experience. On the night itself, she was very funny. Whilst I'm on, the comics appearing on 13 February will be the compere Jonathan Atherton as well as award-winner Zoe Lyons from UK and Greg Sullivan, who has a beard.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Luke's look

The Jar Lady on location in the Cardamoms. Courtesy of Nancy Beavan.
Photojournalist Luke Duggleby accompanied the Jar Lady, Nancy Beavan and her team into the Cardamom mountains recently to record their investigation of a remote burial jar site at Phnom Knorng Perng, the largest of its kind. The Mystery of the Jar People, is his latest story from that intrepid trip to see remains of people from over 600 years ago. See his photos here.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Open house for Aki Ra

The first screening of a documentary film made about founder Aki Ra, will be shown at the Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap on Sunday 29 January, when the Center is putting on an Open Day for all visitors. A Perfect Soldier, by director John Severson, has already been seen widely across the United States, but will be making its Siem Reap debut at the Center, located 7kms south of Banteay Srei temple. Aki Ra is a former child soldier, who was drafted into the Khmer Rouge to plant landmines, subsequently turning full circle to become a one-man landmine eradicator, who later opened his makeshift mine museum on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Today, the museum has moved to bigger premises, welcomes thousands of visitors each year and allows Aki Ra to oversee the care of 20+ young children. His story has been told many times in the international media and on video. In 2010, Aki Ra was chosen as a Top 10 CNN Hero and has been feted by many. Find out more about the film here.

Monument Books are hosting a book launch on Wednesday 25 January at ACE on Street 214 from 6.30pm. It's the launch of the Khmer language edition of Tom Fawthrop & Helen Jarvis' book, Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Both authors will speak at the gathering, as will the Cambodian Minister of Information, Khieu Kanharith and former UN staffer Benny Widyono. The authors have updated their original 2004 manuscript to bring it up to speed with the recent trial of Duch and the start of case 002.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sophea's lost love


Already a big favourite of this blog, Sophea Chamroeun has joined forces again with the group Krom to sing their latest offering, Where Are You, telling the story, in Khmer, of lost love and its consequences. We know already that Sophea is a talented individual, having graduated from the Children of Bassac dance group and received her tuition under the umbrella of Cambodian Living Arts and at the Royal University of Fine Arts. She was until recently a regular dancer at Chayyam restaurant, as well as appearing on television in the national music competition as part of the Smiley Band.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friends with Fabio

Fabio takes his turn in goal at the Friends HQ
Did you think you'd escaped from the Fabio Cannavaro roadshow? Well, think again. His last official function during his brief stay in Phnom Penh, coming after he'd spent time coaching the Phnom Penh Crown Academy youngsters, was to visit the Friends NGO in the center of town, and to donate balls and playing kits to the disadvantaged kids there. Fabio got to find out about the great work that the organization Mith Samlanh do to give street kids alternative opportunities in life. He was accompanied by Rithy Samnang, the man responsible for bringing Fabio to Cambodia. Fabio's name has also been linked with a new high profile football league due to begin in India next month. Lots of money is being poured into the project and famous footballers like Fabio, Hernan Crespo, Robert Pires and others, have been booked to add their weight behind the new league.
Thumbs up for Fabio and his new friends
Fabio handing out specially-designed footballs and playing kits to the youngsters
One proud youngster with his new gift from Fabio

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking Spain by storm

Nam Narim, Sam Sathya and Belle in Persephone. Photo: © Javier del Real. Courtesy: Teatro Real.
Unless you live under a rock, you should be aware that four of Cambodia's finest contemporary dancers are currently strutting their stuff on stage in Madrid. This is a breakthrough first for the cream of the country's dancers, performing in world-class opera at the Teatro Real Theatre in the capital of Spain. The Fab 4 are joining forces with avant-garde director Peter Sellars, who is presenting Igor Stravinsky's melodrama Persephone for the first time. From 14-29 January for 10 performances, all 4 of Cambodia's finest - Belle, Sam Sathya, Nam Narim and Khon Chansithyka - will be showing Europe what they are capable of as part of this unique collaboration. Opening night on the 14th went swimmingly well by all accounts. Leading the way on stage in this contemporary opera will be acclaimed French actress Dominique Blanc and American tenor Paul Groves.

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Back Home

Time to go home. LtoR: Tim, Rumnea and myself.
No, it's not the official England World Cup song from 1970. My brother Tim is flying out at 6.30pm today to return to Blighty after his latest visit to Phnom Penh. He's had a pretty lazy time of it before finally getting his hands dirty with a bearkeeping session at Phnom Tamao zoo yesterday. Before coming to Cambodia he spent over two weeks in Bhutan. We had our last lunch today at Bistro Lorenzo with Rumnea joining us. We were still talking about last night's comedy show and the superb performance from Phil Nichol. We've seen many of the great stand-ups in the past and both rated Nichol very highly. It was certainly a good night to end his visit on.

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Exceptional performer

They don't come much better than Phil Nichol
Phil Nichol is a genius on stage. He vied with host Jimmy McGhie for top spot at last night's Pontoon comedy club but took the honours with a brilliant musical session to end his performance. I've seen enough stand-up comedians over the years to know that Phnom Penh will be hard pressed to witness such an accomplished comedian in the future. The Comedy Club Asia may've climaxed too soon, so to speak. McGhie, the cheeky chappie from London, but well-spoken, was an excellent compere. He started well and got even better. Definitely a young stand-up artist with a big future. The Wikipedia heckle was priceless. Aggressive Australian Brendon Burns was next up and misjudged the mood by simply being too confrontational. He certainly lagged well behind the other two on the night. He reminded me a little of Ian Cognito, one of the best of the aggressive comedians, but wasn't as funny. As for Nichol, he confirmed the pre-gig hype as a unique performer. Very funny stand-ups who can work the crowd as well as he did, and then include a series of guitar-accompanied songs are definitely a cut above the rest. And Nichol is certainly that. The guy in the front row, Lee, came in for much of his mock-gay innuendo and took it on the chin. Nichol began as a member of the trio Corky and the Juice Pigs and his star has never waned. On this manic performance, he will continue to wow crowds for a long time to come. Truly exceptional.
The measured tones of compere Jimmy McGhie - from Wikipedia
Phil Nichol gave an exceptional performance at Pontoon
Phil Nichol towers over his close personal friend Lee on the front row
Brendon Burns lagged well behind his comedy colleagues on the night

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Steel Pulse - Chapter 12

The author (front) with Steel Pulse at the Reggae Sundance Festival in 2003
Better late than never, here's Chapter 12 of the incredible Steel Pulse story. For a long while I had planned to author a biography of the world's best reggae band, Steel Pulse. It never happened but rather than let my notes gather dust, I am publishing each chapter on my blog, on a weekly(ish) basis, to give everyone an insight into this incredible music group. Here's the 12th of thirteen chapters.

STEEL PULSE - A Lifetime of Revolution

Chapter 12: Brand New Dawn (Equality, Liberty & Justice)

Pulse appeared on two tribute albums released in 2002. Here Comes The Sun: A Reggae Tribute to The Beatles featured their version of We Can Work It Out, with Jukie Ranks guesting, whilst Paint It Black: A Reggae Tribute to The Rolling Stones contained You Can't Always Get What You Want. A return trip to the Ivory Coast in West Africa took place in June 2002, initially without Donna. "I was having problems at home and I didn't turn up for the first gig in Abidjan. I had to miss a couple of days. I seriously considered stopping touring as it was affecting my family. It was very serious at the time. But I had a career and was doing what I always wanted to do. It was the first time I'd missed a Steel Pulse gig." She made it for the second concert and the follow-on tours of North America, some festival appearances in Europe including Sunsplash in Austria and the Chiemsee festival in Germany and rounded off the year with first-time visits to Costa Rica and Mexico. "Mexico was good, the land of small people - I really fitted in!" recalled Donna with a smile.

2003 kicked off with a short US tour where they collected a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Bob Marley Festival in Long Beach. After their 30-date coast to coast Summer tour of the States, a visit to Peru and the Reggae Sundance Festival in Holland, the promise of a long-awaited new album from the band is in the pipeline for a mid-2004 release. There have been promises of a new studio album from the band for the last couple of years. Donna explains. "One of the problems felt by everyone in the band was doing the same songs and the lack of fresh material. David listened and started putting his new material into rehearsing during the last year. It's livened everyone up, and made a refreshing change. He got us learning more to see how we felt about them before choosing what he'd actually put in the show. Songs like Build A Nation and Global Warning were added to the set. There's other songs which will be on the new album, like one song based on the largest slave center we saw in Africa at Goree Island." The new album is scheduled to be out in the middle of 2004 and Donna likes what she's heard so far. "I enjoy all of the songs really. I like the new ones as they're fresher. I also like most of the older ones like Wild Goose Chase, Nyahbinghi Voyage, Macka Splaff, Taxi Driver. I find Tightrope awkward, its one that I find difficult. There are certain vocals and pitching of certain notes that I find hard. This is what makes David's songs so unique. When you're singing them and you do the high and low vocals it sounds weird to my ears, it sounds wrong but he says its perfectly fine. In putting the sounds together, he's so unique."

Selwyn comments, "For the last couple of years we've been working on a new studio album, on and off. The reason why it takes so long is that we normally take a long time to do our albums. The music has to be of a certain standard as far as the playing, as far as the production and the lyrics, it all has to sound right." And what direction are Steel Pulse headed? "Basically the same direction that we took when we started the band off, doing material that we believe in, material that deals with issues and certain injustices that we see happening throughout the world in all kinds of different ways." Grizzly sums it up with, "our theme and aim are still the same. It's to make people aware of what's happening all around them and to open their eyes to the inhumanity around the world." David's view concurs, "What keeps us going is that this kind of music still has a focal point with all kinds of groups in society, and everybody shares the same interest in the subject matter of equality, liberty and justice. We took seven years to make this record, because we wanted every song to tell a story and stand the test of time." The album, African Holocaust, was released in June 2004 and featured guest artists Capleton, Damian Marley, Jukie Ranks and Tiken Jah Fakoly. The band began a 15-date European tour in mid-June before crossing the Atlantic for a 33-date US tour immediately after. Hinds declares, "African Holocaust is a summary of the state of the world today from our perspective - which is a perspective of the black diaspora. Subject matters range from exposing the negative impact, politically and environmentally of super powers, to the nostalgia for our African heritage."

In recent years, the core trio of Hinds, Brown and Nisbett toured as part of a nine-piece ensemble that included long-time collaborators Alvin Ewen on bass and Sidney Mills on keyboards, Cliff 'Moonie' Pusey on lead guitar and Conrad Kelly on drums [with Grizzly Nisbett switching to percussion], and the addition, in early 1998 of two British female singers, Sylvia Tella and Donna Sterling. David states, "after going on tour for five years with the horn players, our audience was getting too accustomed to hearing Steel Pulse blowing down the walls of Babylon every time, so when the horn players moved on, we decided to concentrate more on improving our vocal presence. By including Sylvia and Donna, the sound has become a lot tighter and more tuneful, helping the band to stay in the pocket more rhythmically." For the last four years, Grizzly hasn't been able to tour because of health concerns and Sylvia Tella has concentrated on her solo career. "It is Selwyn and myself who put the music together and who produce the music in our own studio, which is called the dub factory," says Hinds, noting that the rest of the group are touring and performing members, who are not involved in the initial creative process. "I'm bringing them the music, they then add their parts. That's how it is generally, and there's lots of reasons for that. One of the main reasons is half of the band resides in the United States, they got family there. We construct the music back in England, between myself and Selwyn." Important contributions are also provided by the band's management and road crew. Richard Hermitage became their manager in 1996 though has been involved for much longer. When the band are on tour in the States, Rich Nesin is their tour manager, who's worked with the group for the last six years. Other key members during their live performances are Louis Yesufu, their long-time front of house sound engineer, stage monitor engineer Bob Carsten, guitar technician Travis Doering and two family members, drum technician Baruch Hinds and keyboard tech Derrick Brown.

For much of 2004, Donna will be missing from the touring line-up. Replacing her on backing vocals will be Melanie Lynch and Traciana Graves (replaced by Marea Wilson in August), who both hail from New York. The reason for her absence is that Donna's second child is due in September and to ensure her pregnancy is trouble-free, she's under doctor's orders to take a break from the stress and strains of flying and performing. At the same time, Donna and Selwyn are putting together an album of music in a variety of styles to showcase Donna's vocal talents. She described some of the behind the scenes ingredients that are vital to keep the band fresh and together as a unit. "We always rehearse before we tour, we rehearse over here with the British lot and then over in the States with the others. We'll rehearse songs that David thinks we've got problems on or the new ones. Then for the last hour before we go on, David will run through the whole show, especially the beginning of the show. When I'm with they band, they mother me, I'm the little sister. I cannot move without them telling me, don't do this, don't do that, where are you going, what are you doing. They are like big brothers to me, I need their support, I can't do it without them. In particular, Moonie and I get on very well, we're so alike, just like big kids. His heart is so good and so is his temperament. We both love movies, so does David, but if I have a problem, I go and see Selwyn. Touring is so exhausting. It takes a toll on your body, your family, the lot. I take a complete break from the band. They don't see me until we next need to meet up. I come back home and do my mother bit, that's most important to me, as well as being a musician."

An important element of who Steel Pulse are is their faith. For David Hinds it's fundamental. "Without Rastafari there wouldn't be me, there wouldn't be the real me, that's the difference. Rastafari is the development of the real me, or the real I and I, the one within myself. It's played a big part because its taught me to be strong, it's taught me to come to terms with a lot of things that I cannot physically change and also it's taught me how to relay what I know to others." Donna explains, "It's what the whole band is based on. I believe a Rasta is what you are inside. A Rasta to me is not only about the teachings of Rastafari but its also about whether your heart is good. I live my life in a good way and if your heart is clean and you believe in that specific faith, that's what you are. 'What does it mean to me?' - it means for me to be humble, my heart is clean, my heart is good, whether you have locks or not or black or white, if your heart is clean and good and you are kind towards people and don't have that harshness and nastiness towards others, and believe in a higher being, then you can be true to your faith, whatever that may be. As a band we chant a psalm before we go on stage. We stand in a circle and Selwyn has a bible and we chant a psalm and then we beat our fists down, which represents chanting down Babylon, and the amount of times represents the people in the band. The majority of the band only eat fish or chicken, David only eats fish and no dairy products." Grizzly also commented on the influence of their faith. "We are what we are and we became stronger through it and because of it. It made our music a lot stronger because of our belief. Me personally, I can't speak for the others, but for me I don't look on it as a religion. Because of the way people view religion throughout the world and because of what people do in the name of religion, I do not look on Rastafari as a religion. I prefer to call it a way of life. Something you do every day not just once every so often. It's helped us a lot, our inner strength, it's kept the band together, and strong. First and foremost, Steel Pulse is a band, we're musicians, that is our career, that's our job. Anybody is welcome, religion and colour is not a blockage. Our views, our strength, our inner feelings come out in the music. Personally, I stopped eating meat even before I joined Steel Pulse. Some of the guys don't eat pork or chicken, though I eat cheese and milk products. Its a way of life."

The band are a major force in world reggae music today, basing themselves primarily in the United States for much of the year. Remarkably, their popularity remains low-key in their UK homeland. As David explains, "As far as being popular in England, we're not. Those who do remember us often ask what became of us. As a matter of fact, from right since Steel Pulse has ever been together as a band, I think the States was the best reception we've ever had. We were playing to people who like the music, were curious to see the band and genuinely believe in what the band has got to say." Grizzly chips in, "it's a shame. The main reason is that the powers that be don't know anything about reggae, they don't understand reggae music, what its about and what reggae musicians are about. And with reggae music they don't make enough money as they do with other music. The music industry is all about making money. A fault in England is that they jump on and off a bandwagon too quick and too easy. They build you up and then the next fad comes along, you're left hanging and they forget about you. Whereas in other countries around the world, they don't do that - they don't drop you, they don't let you go. England is so far behind the rest of the world, they think they're up with it but they're not." It's a state of affairs that has puzzled Donna too. "I've always wondered to myself why Steel Pulse aren't known in England, other than in the black community. I was too young at the time but I've heard what they went through at the beginning. David has said he'd like the band to play in England but it hasn't happened yet. In the US, they're up there, if not top. To see the crowd reaction, above all the other reggae artists, is amazing. At Reggae On The River for example, its like mayhem when we come on. I think part of it's down to their collaboration with Bob Marley and winning the Grammy."

Their distinctive sound and success owes a major debt to Hinds, the band's creative core, their singer-songwriter and famed for his 'stovepipe dread' - a two-foot high vertical tower of dreadlocks. Born in Birmingham into a working class Jamaican family, Hinds first developed his musical interest through his roadie brother Gifford and his friendship with his schoolfriend Basil Gabbidon. Hinds explains the evolution of the music. "Obviously I was born in England, and the whole world knows that reggae music really evolved out of Jamaica. But, having said that, my parents were immigrants that left Jamaica and came to England in the mid-50's. During that period of time, they came over with the form of music that was happening on the island at that time, which was Calypso and blue beat. Blue beat was more like a be-bop type of thing, a form of jazz. At that time, Jamaicans tuned into the New Orleans radio stations and it had the little grooves where the bass line is very much jazz orientated - that was blue beat. Then that music sort of transformed into ska. I sort of got affiliated with the different forms of music that was happening in Jamaica, at that time, because of my brothers and sisters that were coming over each year, as my parents could afford for them to come. So, they came over with the latest forms of music and blue beat slowly came into ska, which was more of an accented form. Then ska became more of an accented type thing where the bass line had more of a variation as opposed to the be-bop.Then when you get into the ska era, Bob Marley came on to play with his type of songs. And then that transformed into rock steady, which was more - instead of going on the upbeat, you go on the downbeat. So, blue beat went into ska, and then ska into reggae, as we all know it today."

Hinds continues. "This is where Bob Marley, once again, along with Burning Spear, The Abyssinians and Third World, just to name a few - those guys sort of evolved out of that kind of a period. Along with the music format, there was also a spiritual connection with it, where people were talking about the whole philosophy of Rastafari and also the ideology of Marcus Garvey, the 'Back-to-Africa' movement. So, like I said, we had the rock steady and then it became reggae, as we know it. Now along with the reggae there was a lot of spirituality, as far as the lyrical content, and it was also the political attribute as well. At that time, in Jamaica, what was happening politically with the governments was a big issue, where one like Marley, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, and all these others, were airing their views and literally using reggae music as a vehicle to air their views. So, as a result, the music slowed down in tempo somewhat from ska. I think it was an essence where the bass line became more hypnotic. It became slow in tempo so that one could get a chance to digest what's said lyrically, because of the political attributes. Reggae, as we know it, was very popular for a good 15 years, I'd say from the turn of the 70's right into the mid-80's. Then after Marley passed on, it became dancehall, where things became a lot more up-tempo, the rhythmic side of things, especially the rhythm guitar. It started to lose its popularity when it came to the dancehall strain of the music, where strictly drum and bass was concentrated on with samples. And also the lyricist, the ones who said things vocally, melodically - the singers - were also phased out and the deejay started to come in, and they started bouncing around a lot of rhythms that were faster in pace, so to speak. So, from my standpoint, that's the evolution of reggae." These formative years were to shape the future for Hinds and his fledgling band and to steer them towards becoming one of the leading exponents of reggae music over the next quarter of a century.

Where did it start for the author? It was Friday 2nd June 1978 and the predominently white audience at the Cheltenham Town Hall had assembled to see an all-black British reggae band, Steel Pulse, who'd burst onto the music scene earlier that year with their anthemic single Ku Klux Klan and their soon to be released album Handsworth Revolution. What they saw and heard took their breath away. Rebelling against inequality and prejudice and extolling the virtues of truth, rights and justice, Steel Pulse gave a masterclass in winning over the impressionable youngsters with their raw power, their mastery of melody and harmonies, their boundless energy and their hypnotic stage performance, complete with costume changes and white Klan hoods. Standing just a few rows from the stage, I was hooked and the band have remained at the top of my diverse musical tastes ever since. In a roller coaster career spanning the next two decades and more, Steel Pulse have consistently surprised and delighted me with their innovative and infectious style of conscious reggae music, led from the front by the melodious tones of David Hinds. No-one else does it better.

[This chapter was penned in 2004]

Chapter 13: Keeping on Track - will follow soon.

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Mind the trap

A powerful new documentary film, 26 minutes in length and put together by American professor Tim Sorel, is now out and available by contacting the filmmaker. The film's blurb highlights the following: The Trap of Saving Cambodia, is part of the international dialogue about the dilemma facing America and the world. The film follows NGO leader David Pred who is trying to put a global spotlight on troubling issues facing this country: forced evictions; corruption on a massive scale; the underground trafficking of women and children. Equally disturbing, could the World Bank, joined by global superpowers such as the United States and China, be funneling billions of dollars in aid to the government with little or no accountability? History will remember the Khmer Rouge and their notorious Killing Fields that followed the Vietnam war as one of civilization's darkest moments. Genocide on a grand scale, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished. The Trap of Saving Cambodia serves as a wake-up call to the world, and forces us to question our role in what is really happening in this beautiful, tradition-rich corner of Southeast Asia. Included in the film are interviews with David Chandler, Elizabeth Becker, Youk Chang, Vann Nath, Joseph Mussemelli, Robert Petit. Find out more at the film's website here.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Footy wedding of the year

A photo on arrival with Rumnea and myself alongside the happy couple
More pictures from the football wedding of the new year, Kouch Sokumpheak with Oeu Ravy, at the New World Restaurant last night. Sokumpheak has been the country's best player for the past few years and had another successful season last year with Phnom Penh Crown, as well as being a regular fixture in the Cambodia national team. Everyone who was anyone was at last night's party.
After another costume change, it's the happy couple with teammate Tieng Tiny and his wife
On stage, preparing for the speeches. He usually does his talking with his feet.
Approaching the cake cutting ceremony
Rumnea with Crown coach Bouy Dary and his family
Some of the Phnom Penh Crown squad enjoying the occasion
Teammates and pals, Khim Borey and Sokumpheak
A less boisterous photo with some of the Crown team
Football-mad fan Marady with Rumnea
The happy couple's picture at the entrance to the party

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Calm and collected

A manly hug for the bridegroom, looking resplendent in his white suit
After Cambodia's 1-nil loss to Malaysia at Olympic Stadium this afternoon, not the expected drubbing and Cambodia even fluffed the opportunity to win the match, everyone and their dog in the world of football made their way to the New World Restaurant to celebrate the wedding party of Kouch Sokumpheak, Cambodia's best footballer bar none, and his new wife Oeu Ravy. 500 guests, most of them footballers or wearing dresses, and a good time had by all. The food was good fare by normal wedding party standards and the Cambodian players who'd played in the afternoon, were the last to arrive at the celebration. It went exceedingly well. Sokumpheak looked calm and collected as he usually does on the playing field, dressed impeccably in a white suit, with his bride looking just as radiant alongside him. His Phnom Penh Crown teammates were out in force to celebrate the big occasion, as were the club's staff members and a myriad of faces from rival clubs and the national team camp. Let's just say there will be a few sore heads in the morning. Rumnea came along as she already knows many of the Crown players and staff and she looked great in another of her own creations. My best to Pheak and Ravy for their future together. More photos to follow.
Rumnea and me at the party
Bride and groom ready for their walk through the flower petals and foam spray
Proud parents and happy couple on the stage

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