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'World' musician hopes to bolster local scene

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Dimple Singh Nandra draws inspiration from all the lands he’s travelled in. Now he brings his message of inner balance and political insight to Cambodia

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Singer-songwriter Dimple Singh Nandra made his name with the band Full Circle in Nepal. Now, he hopes to contribute to the development of a live music scene during his stay in Cambodia.

DIMPLE Singh Nandra's musical career has taken him from his native India to Nepal, through Kenya and now to Cambodia. "I've been here for six months, but it's taken a while to move in, settle down," said Dimple.

Ahead of his first performance at Phnom Penh's Talkin' to a Stranger bar tonight, the artist is excited. "I have all this energy because I haven't performed live for quite some time, though there is also a bit of anxiety. But I expect there will be a very good crowd," he said.

Singer-songwriter Dimple first achieved international recognition while based in Nepal with his band Full Circle in the late 1990s. Together with Deependra Rai on guitar and slide, as well as a changing array of other Nepal-based artists, Full Circle performed mainly acoustic music blended with traditional instruments to Kathmandu audiences.

The band also toured around Asia as well as playING in the UK, in addition to releasing two albums before going their separate ways in 2006, when Dimple left for Kenya. "It was the end of the circle when I moved from Nepal. After that, we all moved in different directions," Dimple explained, pointing out that the breakup was amicable and solely circumstantial.

Although Dimple is now essentially a solo artist, he enjoys working with other musicians wherever he is based.  "It's nice to be solo, so you have your own freedom," he said, but added that he prefers to share the stage with others. "I like working with different artists. In Kenya, I worked with both Kenyan and foreign musicians," he said, adding that he hopes to collaborate with local artists in Cambodia, too.

Evolving sound

In addition to starting to perform again, Dimple is also preparing the release of his third album written during his time in Kenya. "It'll be launched in two to three months' time," he said. "This new album is quite different from the last two albums [with Full Circle], because I've used African voices, you know, the Masai singers, and African traditional drums. So all those things have given it a different background to my [usual] kind of singer-songwriter style," he said.  

Dimple's mellow and acoustic music, both with Full Circle and since, is often described as world music. The self-taught artist attributes this to the use of traditional instruments in his songs. "It's when artists with diverse cultural backgrounds come together using different instruments from different traditions that it gets labelled world music," Dimple explained.

MY SONGS ARE ABOUT TAKING TIME OUT, TRYING TO ENJOY LIFE ... [FINDING] A BALANCE.

Promoting balance

If his musical style is of the world, Dimple's message also has a global resonance, with some songs dealing with contemporary issues such as poverty and disease, while others promote a more balanced life.
"My songs are about taking time out, trying to enjoy life and about the journeys that you take within yourself. Sometimes it's easy to get carried away, be confused and depressed - to be unhappy with your life. For me, [the solution] is very simple. Just take time off from the many things you do and find a balance," Dimple said, adding that he often finds inspiration for his songs in everyday life and the people he meets.

"My interest is also in writing something with a real message. A lot of my songs from this upcoming album are like that; in Kenya, we had the post-election violence and South Africa was the same, and all the time I kept thinking I had to write something of my time in Africa. Suddenly, it just came to me and I wrote a song for Nelson Mandela, ‘Madiba', which is what they call him. It's like a conversation with Mandela," Dimple said. "I also wrote this song called ‘Break the Silence', which is about HIV/Aids," he said.

"You could call my music socially conscious. I mean, these are the things to talk about and it makes sense to me to talk about real issues through my music and promote change that way, even if it's a small, small change - it's still there" he said.

    
Cambodian challenge

While in Cambodia, where he expects to stay for the next three to four years, Dimple hopes to combine his musical career with travelling both in country and within the region. "I also want to see if it's possible to create a live music scene here," he said, though he acknowledged that the Cambodian music scene still has a long way to go, especially in reaching outside the country.

He is keen to find more venues in which to perform,  and perhaps start a regular monthly night somewhere. "I like Maxine's across the river. I definitely want to play there, even if the owner says no!" he said.

Dimple, accompanied by a local drummer from Sovanna Phum Arts Association, will perform at Talkin' to a Stranger tonight, from 8pm. His musical documentary, Mountain of Truth, depicting Dimple's 15-day high-altitude trek to the top of Kala Patthar (5,545m) overlooking the base camp of Mount Everest,  while performing all the way, will also be screened. The event is free of charge.

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