Alex Long, better known as Shaman, started DJ-ing at Pontoon this month after a five year stint as a star on Mongolian music channels. It is only his second time back in Cambodia since 1975, when he fled to France and started his DJ career in the Parisian disco scene. He spoke to Bennett Murray about electronic music, attending rock concerts with his mother in the early 70s and his trip back to the Kingdom to learn his father’s fate.
How did the Khmer Rouge and the following war impact your family?
My mother is French, and my father was Cambodian. I lived in Toul Kork because my father was the head of the National Bank. If you looked at the riel notes back then, you’d see my father’s signature. I was so young, but I still remember a little bit. I went to the French school. We listened to Shocking Blue and Credence Clearwater Revival. And Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea — I saw them perform. I remember a restaurant where on weekends we went down and watched them perform on the riverside. At that time people sat around tables with flowers, very old style. It was for high society Cambodians. The tickets were very expensive, but I went with my mom.
How did you end up in France?
I left six months before the Pol Pot era for Paris with my mother. My father was very nationalistic. He believed everything was going to be all right, and he stayed [in Cambodia]. We didn’t have any news from here because it was totally cut off from the world. We had money we kept in Switzerland, but we had no papers to prove it. But I didn’t care: money goes, money comes. I had a life there. I was very lucky.
How did you start your career?
I started to go to clubs, and I met one guy who had a radio station in Paris. I learned to mix everything. I played at clubs up into the ‘90s, but then my mother said you cannot stay out all night all the time in the clubs. At that time a French ambassador needed someone trustworthy [to work for him], and the parents of the ambassador was a very good friend of my parents, and my mother said maybe me I can go. At that time I was very crazy, and I said I would not go, but my mom said, you should go! I listened to my mom, so I travelled. Turkey, Pakistan, Japan, Portgual, Dubai and Macedonia.
What kind of work did you do for the French ambassador?
I planned protocol dinners, and I provided everything in the residence. Of course I missed DJ-ing, but I loved what I did, and I discovered many things. The ambassador trusts me a lot — I still have the key to his house in Bordeaux and he said I can come whenever I want.
How did you get to Mongolia?
I worked three and a half years in Mongolia for the ambassador before he retired. I played in a club, and a producer and writer approached me. I had met the right people, and I went on to do many things in TV, music and movies. I did something like American Idol, only it was Mongolian Idol.
How was Ulaanbaatar’s club scene?
In Mongolia, people like techno and tech house, and sometimes progressive trance. They like Tiesto, they like Armin Van Buren, and some commercial too.
How is being back in Cambodia after so long?
When I put my feet in Cambodia, I remembered my childhood! I came in 2000 with my mom and aunty to check everywhere for my family. We didn’t find anybody until one week before we were to leave. When we visited Siem Reap, we were in front of Angkor Wat, this man selling tickets looks at me nonstop, and my mom says, why do they look at you nonstop, and I say, I don’t know! And we start to go inside, and this man comes and takes my hand like that, and asks, are you Toh? They called me Tohtoh when I was young. And I say yes. And he said: I am your cousin. I realised: I still have three cousins here! And everyone cried at Angkor.