First there was Bangkok Noir, a collection of stories released last year, and by this autumn Phnom Penh Noir will join the bookshelf. Readers who relish a journey into the dark side discovered noir long ago. We are just starting that journey in Southeast Asia.
In Phnom Penh noir writers and artists – including Roland Joffe, John Burdett, Suong Mak, Bopha Phom, Kosal Kheiv – and the band Krom are the midwives delivering Phnom Penh into the world of noir.
These artists bring to life influential figures, gangsters, fraudsters, shady foreigners, crooked NGOs and corrupt officials.
It is said there is a noir movement taking root in Southeast Asia. Phnom Penh Noir offers evidence of this.
Noir has no one definition. It is used to describe the moody atmosphere of films, fiction, paintings, photographs and music. What is that mood? As an artistic expression, the unifying theme revolves around those suffering injustice and unfairness; ordinary people driven into a corner as they watch their hopes, dreams and lives evaporate without a trace.
In the soon-to-be-released album Krom: Songs from the Noir, the Khmer and English lyrics in songs like Ying, Phnom Penh and Tango Traffic are pure cries from the heart. Christopher Minko and the other members of Krom are part of a long ancient tradition of ballad singers, who went from village to village with their songs. These are folk tales as black as night. Sophea Chamroeun’s voice rings clean, liquid and clear like a troubadour, and Minko’s voice brings a haunting, elegant and soulful depth. Their interpretation of the lyrics transport you straight into the heartland of noir. She’s singing from the noir hymnbook: there is no way out. No escape. No hero who rides to the rescue.
The voices. The lyrics. They linger long after the song ends. Leaving you in the world of lost souls with personal struggle for freedom and dignity.
Warning: Krom’s music offers you a ride down a dark road. A door is open. It is up to you whether to get in and take the ride. It will be an experience you won’t forget. Krom makes you realise we are all on the same road, same journey, same end and we share common dreams that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Noir wakes us up from the mass delusion of mass culture, from the greed, brutality, and cruelty. By looking at the underbelly of society you start to understand society has become all underbelly. Thugs, con men, fast talkers, smiling hit men, people on the make, shills and prisoners are in the back of the car you just got in.
You be the judge.
Krom offers you passport. The visa is stamped inside. Of course you understand once you hear this music, you’ve entered a place that you can never quite leave.