Celebrated soul, gospel and jazz saxophonist Ezra Brown gave about 200 underprivileged Cambodian kids a show to remember on Thursday night at the Shinta Mani Resort.
After just a few notes, Brown had the somewhat sceptical crowd moving and snapping their fingers and calling out responses as he took them on a musical journey through his homeland, the American South.
In Siem Reap on a short break from a hectic Asian touring schedule, the Malaysia-based Brown was taking time out to spread the word on the music that he says is everything to him.
His passion has led him to share stages and studios with the likes of BB King, Charlie Daniels, John Forte, Cassandra Wilson and Les Nubians, along with many other Grammy-winning artists.
“It takes your emotions on a journey. We don’t hear enough soul, blues or gospel, even though soul is everywhere. I want to share that, and then culturally I can learn too,” he said.
“When I show my music, I’m learning too – how people dance, or clap and the rhythms they use, it all gets fed back into my own music.”
Alongside Siem Reap-based musicians, Mike Mahalo and Alexandre Scarpati, Brown played spine-tingling blues medleys and renditions of old favourites like Amazing Grace and When The Saints Go Marching In.
The children, who came from The Landmine Museum, Self-Help Community Centre and Grace House took to it with gusto, with two boys from Kro Bei Riel joining Brown on timpani and another, William, whose decidedly hip hop-inspired dance moves helped to get the crowd buzzing.
Brown is not just a performer, but also an educator, and is working on building a music school in Nicaragua, among many other things.
Introducing kids to something they may never have been exposed to before is the start of a process he’s very familiar with.
“The energy of opening their eyes. It’s just, wow,” he said.
“You can see the different ways you can pull something out of someone, and then you see that they feel more comfortable about being different and that it’s OK to be different. It’s the reason I’m here.”
Bun Yen and Poutei Non, who joined Brown on stage, enjoyed their moment of playing something a little bit different.
“I loved the dancing and the feeling of playing that way,” said Non.