We will bring the fire

This weekend sees the first birthday of LF Social Club on St 308, a venue that quickly became one of the preferred rooms for many performers in Phnom Penh. One year ago they opened with a party that was the first proper outing for a new band, Havana Kings – and they’ll be back again on Saturday night to celebrate their own first anniversary. Leng Pleng sat down with guitarist and bandleader Aymen Ghali.

We got right to the multi-cultural point. “Dairon Gonzalez from Cuba is on vocals,” he explained, “We have Metta from Indonesia on piano, Andrey from Russia on bass, and Jedil from Philippines on drums.   I’m on guitar, my father is Tunisian and my mother American; I was born in Tunisia but grew up in America.”

The band was formed as a deliberate attempt to get Latin music happening. Aymen had already done a lot of work with the instrumentalists. “And then I met Dairon, and heard him sing, and I’m blown away and I thought let’s start a Latin band.” The first road test was an event at Chinese House. “I was hired [to provide] a trio, and they wanted Latin music, and I talked to the guys, come on, let’s try it out.”

Leng Pleng often asks musicians about what their dream project would be, and Aymen had no trouble answering. “Actually at this moment the Havana Kings is the dream project. Dairon is one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. Music is just so natural to him. He can write songs in minutes, and he really controls the crowd at his fingertips, he’s really top notch, professional.   Metta – I always love to play with her. My favourite quality is that she is very sensitive to the emotions of other players, she is always with you. Andrey –I try not to play without him! Whatever I do, if it’s good or bad, I know Andrey will have the people snapping, and he will have the groove down. And of course Jedil, she is a very creative drummer, she tries little things, a lot of surprises with her, also very sensitive to other players.”

Aymen’s first instrument was the saxophone. “I did that for a few years, then I abandoned it and went to guitar and skateboarding.   I spent a lot of time learning the jazz manouche. My influences are Mediterranean, oriental, Middle Eastern, gypsy, and Latin music has always been an influence on me. They are all connected. That kind of spicy, exotic… all this music shares the fire, the passion, the romance. These days I play mostly acoustic, but I did just meet my mother in Europe and she brought my electric guitar from the US, and it made it back here with me. So look out!”

The Havana Kings keep it broadly Latin. “There’s lot of Cuban music, but the repertoire is quite mixed. We are doing old traditional Cuban folky stuff and Afro-Latin, and then also we get into some modern pop songs for the people that want to have fun. Everyone in the band is quite talented, but there was some learning curve for sure, so it has been quite interesting to dig in. We are doing Latin music but in our own way, because our influences cover the globe. We can really make something original without trying too hard to be original; it happens naturally.”

So what’s coming in the second year of the Havana Kings? “We are writing some originals, and hoping to get in the studio this year. I really would like to record and do some music videos with this project, I think we have a lot to explore. That’s the big agenda for me now.”

“Saturday will be quite a special night,” he says with a smile. “LF Social Club was our first real show, and it’s a special place, one of my favourite venues, and the owner is a sweetheart. We will give it our best, we will bring the fire.”

Havana Kings play every Thursday evening at the Sora Sky Bar at Vattanac Tower, and will be throwing a hell of a party for LF Social Club this Saturday night.


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