After eight and a half years in Cambodia, singer Rhiannon Johnson is moving on to her next adventure. She will front one last big gig on Saturday night at Penh House that is already booked out; she reminisced about her life and times in music in Phnom Penh for Leng Pleng this week.
What brought you to Cambodia in the first place?
I had very close friends already living here (friends I went to highschool in Kenya with), as well as my mum here! They all encouraged me to join them. So my brother and I packed up and came over from London, not knowing what life would hold – other than family, friends, warm weather, and a new adventure!
You’ve played with many combos and musicians over the years. For those who have only come in the last couple of years, can you tell us about the days of Durian, and other groups you’ve been involved with?
It’s true, I’ve done lots of different things! This has helped me grow as a singer and performer. I started out doing pop duos with Euan Grey, and did a three-part-harmony act for a while with Euan and Charlie Corrie (I absolutely love singing harmonies!) Jazz has been the main genre I’ve focussed on, playing with talents such as Barry Speirs, Gabi Faja and Toma Willen. Jazz was perfect for a variety of events and venues over the years. The days of Durian have a special place in my heart though. We were a seven piece funk band (with a horn section!) and we brought the house down with every show! How exhilarating those gigs were… so much high energy, dancing, and crowd-singing – they really pushed me as a performer. Everyone I know who’s been around in the Penh as long as we have, Scott, remembers how awesome those shows were.
Durian in a tuk tuk. Photo: supplied
Similarly, like many of us, you have seen many venues come and go. Are there any you particularly miss? What have been your favourites in recent years?
I have to say Equinox, on Street 278. It was no-frills, and it was really fun! In recent years, I liked LF Social Club.
If you had to pick two or three highlights of gigs over the years, what comes to mind?
- The NagaLottery concert – biggest show I’ve ever done. There were thousands of people, laser lights in the sky, a wind machines on stage… I was four months into living in Cambodia and couldn’t believe I was on a stage that big singing to an audience that size!
- Any Durian show
- The Amy Winehouse tribute gig we did at LF Social Club – the venue was totally packed, and everyone was singing along with us!
- Christmas 2018 performing at Songa Saa Private island and Royal Sands on Koh Rong – I was with good friends, the weather was wonderful, and I absolutely love singing Christmas songs.
When did you start to sing? What turned you on to music as a child? Do you play any other instruments?
I always sang as a kid – I sang with the radio which was always, always on! My great grandmother always sang along too. I learned piano and joined choirs and singing groups in high school before eventually singing lead vocals when I was about seventeen.
What will you miss most about the city?
People. The warm weather and sunshine. Music, and my fellow musicians.
What should people expect from Saturday night’s show?
A really positive vibe! Songs that will take some listeners back to 2012, songs everyone can sing along to. I’ll have six musicians joining me – it is so rare to have that many band members on stage! This will make for an awesome sound, and we are really going to soak it all in, connect with everyone, and put out great energy for our last show together – which is going to make for a wonderful evening. I can’t wait to see everyone there.