Songkites music festival fosters original talent

Euan Gray (left) and Phillip Javelle help to set up for last night’s Songkites music show on a stage behind City Hall
Euan Gray (left) and Phillip Javelle help to set up for last night’s Songkites music show on a stage behind City Hall. Pha Lina

Songkites music festival fosters original talent

Sarun “Jimmy” Kaoon, son of ’60s rock star Vor Sarun, stepped into his father’s shoes last night on a stage on Koh Pich. Along with 11 other young Cambodians, Kaoon performed behind City Hall at Songkites, a one-night concert intended to garner enthusiasm for original songwriting in the Kingdom.

“It’s very important because, our past original songs are everywhere,” said Kaoon, who supports himself as a tour guide for foreign visitors.

Hundreds of young concert-goers turned out to hear the songs, sung in both English and Khmer to the backdrop of an international band. The tunes ranged from acoustic pop in the style of Sarah McLachlan to blues.

Organised by Ragamuffin arts therapy NGO co-founder Carrie Herbert and musician Euan Gray, Songkites aims to promote new music as opposed to tunes that copy international hits.

“There is original music in Cambodia, but it hasn’t really been given an opportunity to flourish,” Herbert said, adding that Cambodian music often takes foreign titles and adds Khmer language lyrics.

The festival marked the launch of an album, also called Songkites, which was produced during a six-month period of workshops and recording sessions with 12 young Cambodians.

Lewis Pragasam, the leader and founder of Malaysian band Asiabeat and the drummer who provided percussion last night, likened the Cambodian music scene to Malaysia’s when he started his band 30 years ago.

“It was just in this short time that all this incredible talent came out, and everybody started coming out,” Pragasam said of his native country.

Kaoon said his song Baby, I’m Sorry, which he performed at the concert, shares similarities with American blues music. “It’s about a man who made a mistake, and made his woman feel so bad,” he said.

Kaoon said that though his father – who took a job as a police officer after the Khmer Rouge – helped him learn the trade, the retired rocker has not gone on stage since before 1975, despite being invited to perform abroad by overseas Cambodians

“He’s very famous, but he had to burn all his photos, he had to burn all his albums and put a lot of dirt on his skin to hide himself from the Khmer Rouge, and that’s why he’s still alive. But his band had died.”

Ly “Kan Pich” Vongseng, who also performed last night, said that Songkites is all about re-igniting Cambodia’s pre-Khmer Rouge passion for original music.

“It is waking up this industry to reform, and to make a change for the writers, the production of the songs, to have original music, as it was developed in the old era, in the Sinn Sisamouth era.”

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