In the wooden-walled rehearsal room at Links music shop this week, a set of musicians lays down a Khmer Surin-style melody: the low hum of a bass line, an electric organ riff, a drum beat. The crescendo is broken by the familiar voice of the Cambodian Space Project frontwoman Kek Channthy – better known as Thy.
But this isn’t a rehearsal for the Khmer rock and roll outfit – it’s practice for her new band, Channthy Cha Cha, which has its debut this weekend. After the success of the Cambodian Space Project – which now plays relatively infrequently – Thy found herself with an opportunity for the musical experimentation she had previously longed for.
Thy no longer appears a young cosmic starlet. Her look is now casual and self-assured; her gaze conveys the confidence her voice carries. While the Cambodian Space Project was mostly comprised of foreigners, this time Thy has turned the tables. She’s recruited a line-up of local television and wedding musicians to back her. (Thy herself was once a songstress in a travelling wedding band, as well as a karaoke singer.)
Perhaps out of a sense of comic irony, she’s also a included a “token barang” – Australian poet and musician Scott Bywater – as her guitarist. Bywater, who was a drummer for the Cambodian Space Project in 2009, also helps manage the band’s logistics. He says he’s excited about the new venture, and especially about Thy’s newfound sense of expression.
“For her, it’s a bit of a declaration of independence,” he says. While this weekend’s set includes some old covers, most of the songs were written by Thy herself. “These are new stories, from my heart, to make people dance,” she says.
As the name suggests, Channthy Cha Cha draws heavily on the classic Cambodian repertoire of rhythms and melodies. But she’s adapted them into something a bit faster and a bit more youthful, she says.
Thy is also drawing on her own experiences, like the isolation of being in a foreign country far from home while touring with the Cambodian Space Project or living in Australia. Sometimes it’s quite personal: The track “He’s Not Here” is addressed to one of her former bandmates.
Generally though, Thy says the compositions are about sharing the feeling of independence and the joy of overcoming hard times. “It’s about being a strong woman, a happy woman,” she says.
Channthy Cha Cha will play Saturday at 9:30pm at Oscar’s Bar, on the corner of Streets 13 and 104. Admission is free.