Weekly wrap – commencing Thursday 4 February 2021



There are just a few tickets left for tonight’s Original Sessions concert at Java Tuol Tom Pong featuring violinist Pisey Oum and The Sidewalk Cellist, Clara Shandler, of Music Arts School.  “A unique musical journey that encompasses great composers of Western music, the charming works of King Sihanouk of Cambodia, and Clara’s poetic songs.”

Hot on the heels of the release of Live in Cambodia by Geography of the Moon, another far away friend Ernie Buck has released a new single on Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube and all the other places: Avocado.   Note Bandcamp’s monthly fee waiver (which means they don’t take a cut on sales for 24 hours) happens again tomorrow, Friday 5 February (Pacific Time).

The Box Office is now enrolling for a Skhool of Rock for kids 10 – 16 years old, a course of eight weeks that will see experienced musicians mentoring younger performers (not, they point out, a baby-sitting service; parents are encouraged to relax with a pint and a plate and not leave young rockers to be picked up a couple of hours later).  Check
it out here

Still available:  Around the Traps 2020, a collection of interviews from Leng Pleng from a time when Phnom Penh really was the live music capital of the world.  Subjects include Vanntin Hoeurn, Intan Andriana, Funan Beat Empire, Mirasol Aguila, The Goldilocks Zone, Ariane Parkes and Joe Wrigley.  $7.50 ($5 if you are in the book).  Contact lengplenggigs@gmail.com.

Leng Pleng is experiencing some issues with its email: please use lengplenggigs@gmail.com for contact for the time being.

The Leng Pleng weekly feature


Joining in: a patchy but joyous history of Grass Snake

Once upon a time in the early years of the previous decade, one of the most popular bands on the Phnom Penh expat circuit was a bluegrass act called Grass Snake Union, who used to fill the upstairs at Equinox and make the people bounce up and down, or bring the party to Le Jardin on a Friday evening.  Times change, folk move on, venues change their names and styles, but the beat goes on.  On Saturday night Farm to Table (where Le Jardin used to be) celebrate their sixth anniversary with a performance by Grass Snake Trio, the latest iteration on the Grass Snake journey.  These days the Grass Snake core is Appalachia-born Marianna Hensley and English roots aficionado Joe Wrigley.  Leng Pleng sat down with Marianna to talk bluegrass, tradition, geography and collectives.

“We like to throw around the term bluegrass with Grass Snake, but depending on the time of year, depending on who’s available to play, what you hear with Grass Snake might have more Celtic in it, it might have more country in it, it might have more folk-leaning material in it, along with the straight bluegrass.  But Celtic and bluegrass and mountain music and country music are all branches on the same tree, they share a lot of common roots, and one flows from another and then on back.”

Read the whole interview here.

Passing Chords:  a few things you might not know about…

Photo: supplied

Jonathan Dunn.  Trombone player and leader of Phnom Penh Community Singing (every Sunday afternoon), also known for open mics and assisting with Los Primos and Maki Orkestr.  US born, grew up in New England, did uni and grad school in Portland and Seattle.  In 1996 moved to Wellington, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, for a work opportunity and ended up staying.   For ten years he’s been working on and off as a policy advisor in Cambodia, mainly for the Ministry of Economy & Finance for ten years – lots of work looking at decentralization issues and financing local government.    “I’ve loved immersing in and being part of Phnom Penh  music scene since first coming to Cambodia.  The first experience making music here was as part of raucous cacophony that was the Phnom Penh Hippie Orchestra.  Later in 2014/2015 I helped start a weekly community singing session that is STILL going!”

A pet musical hate?
People in jam sessions who don’t make real effort to listen/tune-in to and play together with others, whatever the respective levels of musicianship, or don’t seem particularly aware of others around them.

A private musical indulgence:
Singing along with Joan Armatrading songs. She’s amazing.

The year you first came to Cambodia:
2010 – on the very first day, around 10 August, I had to attend the launch of the government’s National Program for Sub-National Democratic Development (NP-SNDD), for which I came to work as an advisor on “fiscal decentralization”.  Truly a “Kingdom of Wonder” experience in one of massive Koh Pich reception halls, with bizarre rambling 3-hour speech by the Prime Minister to the entire government cabinet, legions of ministry and local officials and the diplomatic, DP & NGO communities.

An early music memory:
My dad singing opera, and playing the spoons (separate events!).  My dad, who grew up in a dirt-poor family during the Depression in Brooklyn, NY, with immigrant parents and ten siblings, dreamed of becoming opera singer.  He used to busk as a kid singing on the street and in bars to earn money for the family.  After serving in USMC in WWII, he eventually pursued his dream going to Paris to study opera, but when his teacher said he wouldn’t make it as a pro (“not enough baritone parts”), he ended up going to London for PhD in economics, where he met my mum, Jewish refugee from Germany.

Later on, my own obsession with Jesus Christ Superstar, which was pretty much the only item that attracted my listening attention in my parents’ collection of opera-only recordings.  I only very recently learned (a few month ago during family Zoom call) that it came into the collection from some nuns at my older sisters’ Catholic high school who had gifted it to my older brother as a bar mitzvah present!

The last thing you had to eat:
Billy’s DishThatUp pickled cabbage & beetroot. Breakfast of champions!

A country you want to visit:
New Zealand…haha!…I am missin’ home (which Wellington has been since 1996).

I have travelled quite a few countries, much of that for work. There are many places still I would still love to experience for non-work travel: Tanzania/ Zanzibar, Madagascar, Mozambique and Morocco all appeal as exotic-sounding mysterious destinations.  Mexico and Cuba would also be super cool, both ‘cause I really want to learn Spanish and for music.

Also, Russian studies was big part of my life for four decades – language, history, culture, politics, etc.  I had amazing times in Moscow as a student (in 1988 and 1991) and did a lot of early advisor work around newly independent former Soviet states in mid-late 1990s/2000s.  My first gig out of grad school was two-year resident position in Kyiv, Ukraine.  Later many trips to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and other places.  My daughter Simone (nearing 26) was born during time in Kyiv and son Benjamin (28) was a tot there.  I would LOVE to travel with my two kids back to Kyiv and to “the big smoke(s)” – Moscow and Petersburg, and have a big wander/explore eastward through Russia to the wilds of the Russian Far East/Kamchatka Peninsula.

A book or movie you keep going back to:

Haha…I can hear my kids laughing about this one…

Movies – a few of the ones watched in double-digits – Everything is Illuminated, Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski.

Books – no single book I go back to, but for authors, anything by Neil Gaiman (turned on to him by my son). Brilliant!…especially Good Omen (with Terry Pratchett) and American Gods.

What languages can you speak?
English and Russian are the two I really know.  I can sorta of get gist of some other Slavic languages.  Once upon a time I studied Uzbek! And being Jewish, I learned to read Hebrew, but mostly for reciting prayers and singing songs, which I still love to sing.  And I am having super fun time starting to learn Khmer! FINALLY! Just started a couple of months ago and it is so so rewarding!  I wish I had started years ago.

Your primary instrument, and when you started playing it:
Trombone.  I started as kid when we all had to learn recorder and then choose another instrument in 4th Grade, at ten years old.  I was super into it for about four or five years, having jams with friends after school…

and then slogged through high school band with little interest.  I stopped for over 20 years, but still kept my first horn around when moving.  I got back into playing at age of 40 or so when a bunch of friends decided to start a klezmer band in Wellington, NZ – Klezmer Rebs, still going strong!     Still hoping to learn how to play the thing someday!

Something people might be surprised to know about you:
I like to sew (even though I haven’t for a few years now). I like to make things for friends/my kids and used to collect cool fabric on my travels for work (especially in Africa & Central Asia).  My mum had a fabric shop when I was kid and was a very accomplished dressmaker and taught sewing classes.  I used to hang in the shop after school sometimes as a kid and would play around with one of her cool Husqvarna sewing machines that had tons of different stitches.

Also I worked on Russian fishing boats in the North Pacific/Bering Sea.  As a grad student, I once got recruited to work for the CIA – good for a free lunch!

You have a time machine and a magic ticket to one gig or festival in the past.  What do you choose?
Hmmm….really really tough to choose.  I have been super lucky growing up and living where I have in the States with opportunities to see a lot of live performances (including a lot legendary artists – blues, bluegrass, rock & roll, jazz, folk, reggae, ska).   I guess when I think about, I guess I would set the dial on time machine to mid-1960s…with the following destinations:

  • Jamaica – to skank until I drop at original Skatalites gig with Don Drummond on trombone;
  • Nigeria – to soak in joyous soulful brassy Highlife music of Cardinal Rex Lawson & His Majors Band;
  • San Francisco – rockin’ out to very early Grateful Dead jam with Ron “Pig Pen”McKernan still shoutin’ the blues;
  • and I could make a quick stop en route…a Howlin’ Wolf gig in Chicago!

A question from last week’s participant:  When you were young, what was the first thing you dreamt of being when you were older?
Sadly, a maths professor.  I loved maths.  I used to ask my parents to give me maths problems to solve in my head instead of reading me bedtime stories. Guess that explains a lot.

… and here’s some more information for those interested in Phnom Penh Community Singing

PPCS started in 2015 at the old Music Arts School on St. 360 with the wonderful Trish Watts, and has been kept alive with the support of various folks ever since.  We’ve had a few venues and recently moved to a new home at YK Art House on St 830 (near Samai Distillery).

We offer a weekly acapella singing session open to anyone and everyone who wants to sing with others.  It’s not oriented toward performance; the focus is on providing a comfortable environment to have fun and lots of laughs, and whatever else comes from experience of sharing and exploring our voices.   We delve into a lot of different material – “world music” from all sorts of places (Africa, Balkans, Georgia, others), gospel-inspired ‘Americana’, Hebrew, German, French, Maori, and classic and contemporary pop/rock favourites too.  No previous musical or choir experience or skills are required or expected.

When: Every Sunday 4pm-5:30pm
Where: YK Art House

Musician/s seeking Musician/s

Want to list?  Contact us at lengplenggigs@gmail.com.

Leng Pleng also recommends the Facebook page Phnom Penh Open Mic as a resource for finding fellow players.

Steve Porte Photo of the Week

A hand, a couple of hats, and Charles Villar on guitar with Moi Tiet at Oscar’s on the Corner, Friday 29 January, 2021


Let us know about any musical activities we haven’t captured:  lengplenggigs@gmail.com.

Stay safe out there, and see you around the traps.

your correspondent,

Guillermo Wheremount






Leave a Reply