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Krom matches its darkness with subtle sophistication

17 Chris Minko

This past weekend Krom performed at Doors Phnom Penh, a popular restaurant and venue for music and entertainment. The Phnom Penh-based band includes Christopher Minko – the branchild behind Krom – Jimmy B, and vocalists Sophea and Sopheak Chamroeun, who were trained at Cambodian Living Arts.

Minko has lived in Cambodia since 1996 and is the founder and secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) in which several of the players are landmine survivors.

Minko, a composer, songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for Krom, started the band in 2010, and wrote its first song, I Walked the Line which was released by his own label, Mekong Sessions.

His lyrics brings an awareness to human trafficking, the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, ranking third behind illegal drugs and trafficking in arms, as reported by The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime.

Since starting Krom in 2010, Minko has collaborated with Bangkok-based author Christopher G Moore for the crime fiction collection Phnom Penh Noir, released in November. Phnom Penh Noir features short fiction from the likes of Roland Joffé, John Burdett and James Grady. The stories explore the dark emotional and psychological undercurrents of Phnom Penh and the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which lives on as a tragic memory inside of all Cambodians.

“Christopher Minko’s talent has been to gather the essence of the pain and suffering from such lives and turn these experience into the best kind of art that takes one deep into the human spirit,” Moore, editor of Phnom Penh Noir, said.

Film producer Gaye Miller, whose documentary In Search of Camp 32 features songs from the band was at the Doors performance. For her, one of the highlights of Krom’s performance was the song The Wire, sung in the bluesy, gutsy style of Janis Joplin.

“It was strange to hear this powerful voice coming from the petite Sopheak as her voice soared high then dropped to the depths of her vocal register,” Miller marvelled.

The band’s rendition of Sadness, another song in Miller’s documentary, brought tears to her eyes.

“With Jimmy B improvising on the saxophone, it added yet another emotional level to this haunting song. I was visualising the climactic scene where it will be used. It touched me to the core.”

Miller thinks the band has evolved beyond the “dark underbelly of life in Southeast Asia” into a sophisticated sound.

“They still include the noir element but have added some lighter, highly technical composition. We were happy that we had seen a first class performance that could have played to audiences anywhere in the world.”

Miller’s film In Search of Camp 32 will be released at the end of June, and will enjoy a few private viewings, show in the film festival circuit and find worldwide television distribution. Krom will return to the Doors on June 8 to perform songs from their new album, Neon Dark.

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