As the dust settles on the Kampot Readers and Writers Fest 2017, a bunch of bedraggled barangs make their way slowly back to Phnom Penh, their gin-soaked minds grappling with the burning question: ‘how many holiday days are there this week?’. In Kampot, several of the ‘Readers and Writers’ visiting town for the festival have decided to fall in with the wave of ‘refugee’ expats fleeing Sihanouvkille and will soon sign a three-month lease on a one-bed apartment, somewhere within a stone’s throw of the Durian roundabout.
On Street 726, Damon Gallagher continues his Thursday to Monday residence at Equinox Kampot. This talented pianist, originally from Detroit but playing a distinctly New Orleans-infused jazz-blues style, dazzles customers nightly at the upright piano in the middle of the cafe. General Manager Anthony Mrugacz is a long way from his native Texas and this latest iteration of Equinox bears little resemblance, at the moment, to the legendary Phnom Penh venue he managed a few years ago. But who knows where this could go? Kampot is on the rise and Anthony will be experimenting with different combinations of live music in the months to come. During the KRWF, the stars of the week, the six (or seven) piece Jigsaw Collective, performed an impromptu, acoustic evening of far-out swing and blues that has already become part of the Equinox legend.
The ranks of Complicated Business have recently swelled from a trio to a quintet of appallingly handsome young men – now employing bass and drums, electric guitars and a synth to completely transform their sound from acoustic guitar-bashing to full-on experimental electro rock’n’roll. Check out the new-look, new-sound band at Tusk in Phnom Penh on Friday night.
Somewhere near the other end of the youth vs experience spectrum, the lads from the Cambodia Country Band have been preparing for a ‘comeback’ show at Shanghai Bar this Saturday night. Since forming a few months ago and getting up to speed with regular Monday night performances at Oscar Bar, the band took a break while Clay concentrated on his new endeavor: running the Garage Bar on Street 110, Phnom Penh. The Shanghai country session will be held on the bar rooftop in celebration of the establishment’s 17th (!) anniversary. In terms of the lifespans of most bars in the city, that could be called (like some of the members of the Cambodia Country Band) a ripe old age!
Something of a secret ‘bonus’ gig has been prepared for the unexpected visit of ace guitarist Aymen Ghali this weekend. Aymen and fellow fretboard hotshot Stan Paleco will perform a Sunday lunchtime show at Chinese House in Phnom Penh. The repertoire will be squarely oriented towards the classic gypsy jazz sounds of Django Reinhardt. Just in case you had forgotten what the talented Ghali sounds like, check out the video below:
With the sounds of the KRWF still ringing in our collective ears, it seems timely to mention some other awesome Cambodian musical happenings set to transpire soon. In addition to Anton Isselhardt’s classical music-based program International Music Festival Phnom Penh (Intercontinental Hotel, November 10th-19th), two further marquee music festivals will be happening over the next few weeks. While the IMFPP has now reached its fourteenth year (an impressive feat in and of itself), December’s International Jazz Festival Phnom Penh will, for the third year running, also make a significant cultural impact by bringing some truly world-class jazz acts to Cambodia (more details of the Jazz Festival coming soon).
As far as indie/alternative music festivals go, the market in Cambodia still seems some way off being able to support a boutique event such as this weekend’s Quest in Hanoi, Vietnam, or next month’s Wonderfruit in Pattaya, Thailand… and a long throw from staging something on the scale of the recent Bestival in Bali. As we all know, Cambodia certainly does not lack for beautiful locations or the requisite infrastructure for a fantastic indie music festival – it’s just that there doesn’t appear to be quite enough potential for ticket sales from locals, expats or tourists to make it happen… yet.
The Diamond Moon Festival represents a potential leap forward for music festivals in Cambodia, with eleven locally-based bands set to storm a huge stage at Koh Pich ‘Diamond Island’ on Saturday 25th November. While the organisers are not shipping in any big international names (this year), the scale and the level of organisation of the event is of a different order to the usual local gigs and happenings – with a capacity of 10,000 people (thousands of tickets have already been sold) and a full professional-standard stage, sound and lighting set-up. Check out the Diamond Moon line-up – and find out where to buy tickets – via the festival website.
Whatever you’re up to over the next few days, stay safe out there and… see you around the traps!