Saturday, December 30, 2006

Classic Cambodia comes to London

The Lakhaon Khaol classical male masked dance, Weyreap's Battle, performed by members of the Amrita Performing Arts company will come to London in March 2007. Originally revived and produced with funding from the Embassy of the United States in Phnom Penh in February 2004, this production has toured to Bangkok and the 2005 Melbourne Festival In Australia and will be featured at the 2007 Barbican Bite Festival with performances on March 30, 31 and April 1 in London, at The Barbican, one of the most prestigious theatres in England. Amrita Performing Arts is an international performing arts production company based in Cambodia. Derived from the Sanskrit word meaning 'eternity', Amrita works to promote and sustain the revival and preservation of all forms of traditional Cambodian performing arts. Find out more here. The ANZ Bank in Phnom Penh is the first corporate sponsor for Amrita Performances. Their generous contribution will help Amrita mount three weekends of performances at the Chenla Theatre in the Cambodian capital featuring various forms of dance and theater in January 2007. I'm in Phnom Penh myself in January, so I hope to catch one of the shows.

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One exhibition that I will definitely visit when I get into town on 12 January are the Auguste Rodin drawings at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The exhibition opened last week and contains 40 (out of 150) of the sculptor/artist's most famous drawings, which he completed in 1906 after being captivated by the Royal Ballet dancers of King Sisowath, who were visiting France at that time. The French government are sponsoring the exhibition (which will run through til 11 February) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of King Sisowath’s visit, and to house the fragile works on paper, a wing of the National Museum has been renovated and a room with temperature and humidity controls room constructed. The Rodin exhibition will be some compensation for about 100 of the best pieces at the museum that are currently out of the country and on display in Bonn, Germany. However, their absence has allowed another 100 items to be taken from the museum's storeroom for a rare display. Every cloud has a silver lining.
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If you haven't yet heard of a documentary film by Socheata Poeuv called New Year Baby, I'm sure you will, very soon. The film's world premiere took place on 25 November in Amsterdam at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the most prestigious documentary film festival in the world. An audience of over 200 viewed the film and gave Socheata (pictured left) a standing ovation at the end. In addition, it received the Amnesty International - 'Movies That Matter' Human Rights award - the highest international human rights honor the film can win. The jury named New Year Baby a tour de force with universal appeal. Its success has seen other screenings in the Netherlands and Amnesty have expressed interest in supporting the film for more international screenings. You can read all about the film here. And I urge you to get out and see the film when it comes to your neighbourhood.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Reggae-Ska explosion

Gabbidon vocalists, Leonie Smith (Left) & Indigo
Birmingham's Jam House was the place to be last night for any self-respecting reggae, ska or two-tone fan with a superb show by regular house-band Gabbidon, led by Steel Pulse's founder Basil Gabbidon, alongwith special guests Ranking Roger and Neville Staple. The place was buzzin' with a large crowd and with a selection of music that you just had to dance to, the dancefloor was packed solid. Gabbidon played a host of reggae revival favourites in the 50-minute first half of the show, kicking off with Rise Up and following that with Respect For Jah, 54-46 Was My Number, Bad Man, Love & Affection, My Boy Lollipop and Could You Be Loved amongst others before vocalist Indigo took the lead for her excellent rendition of Walk On By. Next up was her vocal partner Leonie Smith with Police & Thieves before Lee Alexander finished the first half with Wear You To The Ball and Mister Bojangles. Gabbidon are a tight unit with talented musicians like Paul Beckford on bass, Colin Gabbidon on drums and band leader Basil on lead guitar and vocals. They also carry a brass section that includes Alvin Davis that adds that little bit extra to each live performance, alongwith the vocals that are shared amongst four gifted singers.

For the second fifty minute show, Gabbidon returned to support the two main guests of the evening. First up was Ranking Roger who went straight into Tears Of A Clown, and supported by Leonie and Indigo, carried on into a medley of The Beat classics, Hands Off - She's Mine, Ranking Full Stop and Mirror In The Bathroom. Roger handed the mic over to former Specials' frontman Neville Staple, who despite a car accident a few days earlier, gave his normal storming performance with Simmer Down, Do Nothing and Message To You Rudi. The two good friends returned for a joint effort of Enjoy Yourself, leaving the stage to loud applause, before Gabbidon closed the show with Love & Affection and Longshot - Kick The Bucket. Another night of great entertainment to keep the winter chill from the audience's bones. Roll on the next one.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Cry No More deliver the goods

Last night Cry No More did what they do every Christmas and gave a fantastic performance for their vociferous fans at the Turks Head in Twickenham. They never fail to deliver and despite Roy Hill's constant threat that this was their final reunion gig of all time, watch out for another sometime in the first quarter of 2007. My gig review is below but the photos will take a few days. In the meantime, here's one of Chas Cronk (left) and Roy Hill at their Dec 2005 reunion. To read about their previous gigs, click here. I recommend you get along to their next appearance - you never know it could be their last!

Review: Turkey, mince pies, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the final Cry No More reunion gig of all time – each a Christmas tradition that we know and love and the 2006 version of the latter left no-one disappointed. The Cry No More formula for success is straightforward – excellent musicianship, a cupboard full of quirky, catchy songs, enough ad-libbing to fill Santa’s sack, guaranteed audience participation, all meshed together with the wit and repartee of Roy Hill and his fellow minstrel Chas Cronk. It doesn’t get much better than this, and all for a tenner, at The Turks Head in Twickenham.

So what did we get for our money? The first of the two sets was an hour long, consisting of ten kosher songs, half a dozen recognisable ad-libs, a Bob Dylan impersonation and a rousing version of Falling to take us into the break. Roy kicked off with his nefarious Sheep adventures and swept into his back-catalogue with Piccadilly Lights, recalling his solo days of the late ‘70s. Stories of Roy’s childhood and a letters section served as a breather between the rest of the musical gems on offer including one of my personal favourites, Don’t Leave Me Here, a slow version of Boy and that stirring rendition of Falling. The set-list (ad-libs in brackets): (Sheep/Tinkerbell); Piccadilly Lights; (Diggidy Dog); Keep Away From Me; (childhood/Bob Dylan); Just Too Late; Jenny Takes A First Look At Life; Don’t Leave Me Here; Man Overboard; (letters); Taller of The Two; Boy; Every Single Time; Falling.

The Turks Head crowd, old hands at these reunion events, really got into full voice for the second half of the show. Barber Jim began the set with Roy relying on the audience for the words to the first song, On Holiday. They followed it up with FASHION and a sackful of other CNM choice cuts with Steve Whalley joining them on stage for George’s Bar. Templar and Wooden Heart brought the gig to a close and the crowd to its feet – aside from those that were already dancing – before Roy & Chas returned for an encore of the Robin Song and I Like I Like I Like – a total playing time of 2 hours 20 minutes. Fantastic entertainment, and well worth the 200+ mile round trip. The set-list: (Barber Jim); On Holiday; FASHION; Trashy Doll; I Love Roxy; Cry No More; Lying In A Strangers Bed; (signed by EMI); Sleep; Forgotten Now; More; First Kiss; Caveman Rock; George’s Bar; (Life in Hollywood); Sixties Baby; Oh Sharon!, Templar, Wooden Heart. Encore: (Robin Song), I Like I Like I Like.

There’s talk of another get together in March or April 2007 to plug a DVD release and also some long-awaited Roy Hill solo gigs and CD releases from his extensive back-catalogue. Watch this space.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Heritage Watch calendar & more

The folks at Heritage Watch, based in Phnom Penh, know a good lensman when they see one. How's that...'cause they've employed the services of a pal of mine, Garrie Maguire from Australia, as one of the two photographers for their brand new 2007 calendar. It'll showcase the Angkorean temples through beautiful black and white photographs, taken by Garrie and German photographer Doris Boettcher. Both have photographed extensively in Southeast Asia, and have exhibited their work both in Cambodia and overseas. I've previously highlighted the important role that Heritage Watch are playing in doing their utmost to save Cambodia’s cultural legacy and other plans in the pipeline include the following; at the ancient temple complex of Koh Ker, they aim to start an innovative project combining preservation with sustainable tourism development. Also, HW will further its educational efforts with If The Stones Could Speak, a storybook promoting heritage preservation that will be a key part of a planned youth education program. You can read more about their efforts here. And you can take a look at Garrie's photography here, where I found this photo taken in the FCC a few years ago, of Garrie (left) and yours truly, regaling each other with our temple adventures!
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A 35-minute documentary film dealing with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime has been shown in Phnom Penh and is due to go on tour around the country early next year. The film, Wanting To See The Truth ('Chang Kheun Pit' in Khmer) includes interviews with Cambodians who describe the forced labour, starvation and mass killings under Pol Pot's rule. But it also shows footage of young Cambodians who do not believe stories of the atrocities of the late 1970s.The period is not taught in schools, and the film's producer, Tara Urs, plans to screen it around the country to boost awareness particularly amongst the younger population. Throughout the film older Cambodians describe the horrors of life under the Khmer Rouge, when up to two million died because of the regime's brutality. The camera then pans to giggling teenagers who declare that they do not believe a word of what their relatives have just said. Wanting To See The Truth was produced by the Open Society Justice Initiative in collaboration with award-winning filmmakers Rob Fruchtman and Lex Fletcher, and the Khmer Institute for Democracy. The film is intended for a Cambodian audience as an outreach tool.
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A new book just published, Building Cambodia - New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970 by Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Collins, describes the flowering of Khmer architectural genius - namely, the New Khmer Architecture that emerged in Phnom Penh amid the heady national pride that followed Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. The book documents the tragically short-lived style that resulted in a spate of striking buildings until its demise amid civil war and genocide not two decades later. Taking seven years of research to complete, and packed with rare photographs and illustrations, the 334-page hardback pays tribute to this remarkable cultural interlude and focuses on the work of people like Vann Molyvann who designed such significant landmarks at the Independence Monument, the Council of Ministers and the Chakdomukh theatre, amongst many others. You can see some of his work here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar - part 2

You may recall my blog post on 7 November - read it here - highlighting a book dedicated solely to the amazing face towers of this previously remote temple complex in northwestern Cambodia. Well, I was very pleased when the publishers, Goto Shoin from Japan, sent me a copy of their book, The Face Towers of Banteay Chmar, to review. For someone like me who has always found immense fascination with the face towers of Cambodia, this is the perfect Christmas present. 150 pages devoted to the enigmatic faces believed to King Jayavarman VII, from Banteay Chhmar, its satellite temples - which I visited in January 2005 - and the even more ruinous temple complex at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay.

For photographer Baku Saito this was an opportunity to complete his project to capture all of the face towers in Cambodia, having previously produced exhibitions and a book for Unesco on the more readily-accessible faces of The Bayon and the other temples at Angkor. In all there are 228 faces at The Bayon and more at the temples of Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, Ta Som and the Gates of Angkor Thom. These faces began appearing in the latter half of the Bayon style period, after 1200 and are known as 'the smile of Angkor'. The task of capturing the faces at Banteay Chhmar was a tougher assignment, one which Baku has come through with flying colours, with no less than 58 pages of the book housing gorgeous colour plates of the temples and towers, another 40 pages containing black & white shots of each face he encountered (31 in total) as well as plans of each temple site. No effective restoration work has yet taken place at Banteay Chhmar and the book highlights the need for urgent conservation studies to be undertaken, especially as one of the face towers collapsed in 2004. There are now 70 face towers still standing in the whole of the country, though some are in an advanced state of ruin - its time to act now to save these incredible masterpieces of Khmer culture.

The photographs show that the faces at the four satellite temples surrounding the main Banteay Chhmar complex, as well as the face tower at the temple of Prasat Preah Stung in Preah Khan are in considerably better condition than those at the main temple site, and adds further ammunition for the urgent restoration of these priceless gems. The book also contains an essay by Olivier Cunin who looks for evidence of more face towers at the themples, which are no longer standing, but the question of who exactly is represented by the faces is left hanging without any definitive conclusion. This book feeds my fascination for these bewitching temples and for that I thank Baku Saito and Goto Shoin for their foresight in publishing this exceptional record.

A Banteay Chhmar face pictured on my 1st visit to the temple in November 2001.

You can read about my own Banteay Chhmar adventures here and about my visit to the ruinous Preah Khan complex here.

A Museum for Siem Reap?

There is a large expanse of land on the road from Siem Reap towards the Angkor complex which currently has corrugated iron fencing around it and a sign declaring that this is where the new National Museum of Siem Reap will be. The necessity for a second branch of the National Museum explaining the art and architecture of Angkor in particular, next to Angkor itself, is abundantly clear. For years, a massive amount of free-standing statuary has been holed up in the warehouses of the Angkor Conservation Depot, gathering dust, when it should be on show to the increasing number of visitors that flock to the Angkor complex each year. Ah, if it was only that easy.

As far as I can make out, the main museum project is underpinned by private Thai investors in league with the ministry of culture and will be built on the expanse of land I mentioned above. However, the word on the street is that this will be more of a shopping mall with stalls for Cambodian handicrafts and souvenirs, alongwith the odd authentic Khmer sculpture from the Angkorean period! There's a suggestion this 'shopping museum' will open in the Spring or even earlier. This has already caused a storm of protest and a Las Vegas style of museum is not what the purists want, but it will line the pockets of the Thai investors and their cohorts. Its a worrying development, for what could be a major tourist attraction in Siem Reap if handled correctly with income being used to improve facilities and the like, but instead looks to be heading down the 'anything for a profit' approach under the banner of a new museum for a new future. We shall see.

I believe there is considerable unease in the corridors of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, where there are fears that if the museum in Siem Reap comes to fruition then no-one will bother with their museum any longer, especially if they are put under pressure to transfer some of their best pieces to the new museum. I think they, like everyone else, are being kept in the dark about the final outcome. Also on the cards is a private visitors centre-cum-museum to be erected close to the site of Banteay Kdei by JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency restoration effort at Angkor. The Japanese team have been excavating burial mounds near the temple site for a while now and want to show off their finds to the public as well as portraying their archaeological work, sometime in the Spring of next year. At the Angkor Conference in Sydney in July, Lydia Mittermayr presented her proposal for a museum in Siem Reap. It combined a display of sculptures alongwith reconstructed temple models to encourage visitors to see the temples in their historical context, as they were originally seen. Her idea also included a view of Angkorean studies starting with early art history and leading on to modern archaeological findings which look beyond the temples and seek to supplement current understanding of what Angkor used to be. Now that's what I call a museum that teaches and fascinates visitors.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Yaz Alexander - The Christmas EP

Anyone looking for a stocking filler this festive season should look no further than the brand new Christmas EP from Yaz Alexander, containing her own Yuletide offering, At Christmas. The song has already debuted on the Barry Tomes' Gotham Records-produced CD, Christmas In July.

The 4-track EP, cost £5, is available from all good music outlets in Birmingham including Summit Records, Sound of Music Records, The Hatman, Wildfire Music, Humal Records & The ACMC Centre. Yaz is sponsored by Birmingham radio station Newstyle Radio 98.7fm and the EP can be ordered through her website or by email.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Menu For Hope

Cambodia Now author and food blogger Karen Coates has sent me this message - she's on the look-out for your help.

"Please help fight world hunger. And a special plea to friends of Cambodia: please help spread the word about this year's Menu for Hope. Once again, food bloggers around the world are uniting in a raffle called Menu for Hope, with proceeds going to the UN World Food Programme (last year's raffle raised $17,000 for Unicef). Bloggers have donated hundreds of tantalizing prizes, from dinner certificates to cookbooks to care packs. I'm personally offering two prizes: a signed copy of my book, Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War; and a dinner invitation to Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh. I hope you can help. Each $10 raffle ticket gets you a shot at the prize of your choice (if you don't like these two, you'll have plenty more to choose from). Plus, your $10 will feed more than 34 hungry people. Please see my blog,, for full details. And please help publicize this information to your network of friends and colleagues. Thanks and happy holidays."

Monday, December 11, 2006

To Asia With Love - the series

Author Kim Fay (pictured) tells us on her website about some wonderful news... "As of August, I have the great pleasure of working as the managing editor of To Asia With Love, a literary guidebook series for Things Asian Press. Based on my beloved To Asia With Love: A Connoisseurs’ Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, the series will include Japan, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China, India, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. The first eight books in the series will be published in the winter/spring of 2007/2008." I couldn't possibly identify the editor of the Cambodia edition..., though I can reveal that former Siem Reap bookshop owner Don Gilliland will edit the Burma/Myanmar book, Lonely Planet's Joe Cummings will piece together the Thailand version, with Kim herself in charge of the Vietnam edition.

Kim will also publish her own part travel essay, part cookbook, part history, sociology and philosophy book, Communion: Meditations on Eating in Vietnam, which explores the culture of Vietnam through its intriguing culinary traditions, in the Spring of 2007. She also talks about a novel, In Yellow Babylon, which is close to completion. "I have always wanted to write a novel whose poetry would make Michael Ondaatje proud. I am also fascinated by the true story of Andre and Clara Malraux, who brazenly attempted to steal a six-ton bas relief from a Khmer temple in the early 1920s. With both of these inspirations in mind, I set out to write a literary adventure novel. The result: a story about one woman's quest for a lost temple, and an exloration of obsession set against the backdrop of post-WWI Indochina." I for one am eagerly awaiting the outcome of her writings, and of course, the To Asia With Love series of guidebooks.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gabbidon gig photos

Another photo from the recent Gabbidon gig at the Jam House in Birmingham, 29 November. On the left is Reggaebaby herself, Jean Mclean, who recently put on a great show at the Ipanema Bar in Birmingham city centre, backed by a full band. In the middle is backing vocalist Anne-Marie, who has worked with both Jean and Yaz Alexander, on the right. They were there to support the Gabbidon show with Yaz taking the stage to sing Keep It Like It Is.

Reggae and beauty - a potent force

Two of my favourite female reggae singers join forces at a recent gig at The Jam House in Birmingham. They are (left) Yaz Alexander and Leonie Smith. You can read a lot more about both vocalists at Yaz and Leonie. Both are incredibly talented singers and I'm expecting 2007 to be their year. Yaz already has plans for an EP followed by an album later in the Summer. Watch this space.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Where's that trumpet when you need's finally arrived....Dawn Rooney's updated and beautifully illustrated 5th edition of her Angkor 'bible' has hit the bookshops. I was in Bristol on a training course this week and there it was, holding pride of place in Stanfords travel bookshop. Its called Angkor : Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples, its the fifth edition of Dawn's book and contains an additional 33 temple sites, 488 pages, 176 colour photos, 44 maps and a foreword from King Norodom Sihamoni no less. Its published by Odyssey Books and can be bought here. My own website gets a mention; British Andy Brouwer writes the best of the personal websites, packed with tales from his annual travels in the kingdom. A comprehensive links page that includes some travelogues, Brouwer puts in as much info on temples as contributors submit.

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Those kind souls at Routledge Publishers have sent me 3 brand new books to review this week, so I better get my specs cleaned in preparation. Gregor Muller's Colonial Cambodia's 'Bad Frenchmen' : The rise of French rule and the life of Thomas Caraman, 1840-87 looks very interesting to say the least. 295 pages and the story of how Cambodia became colonized by the French in the 19th century and the tale of one man who came to represent everything that the colonial state dreaded. Expressions of Cambodia: The politics of tradition, identity and change is a series of articles, edited by Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter, that will be of particular interest to those working in the fields of Asian studies, tourism, diaspora and postcolonial and cultural studies. With an introduction by Ben Kiernan, Conflict and Change in Cambodia, by editor Caroline Hughes, isn't due out until next year and brings together an analysis of Cambodia's recent political and environmental history. All 3 books can be ordered through the publisher's website.
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The Royal Ballet of Cambodia are scheduled to tour in March and April 2008 but I don't have any more details at this stage. I believe it'll be in Europe but where and when I don't know. Okay, so its a long way off just yet, but forewarned is forearmed! On Monday of this week, I was invited, but couldn't attend, the opening of the Audiovisual Resource Center Bophana in Phnom Penh, an archive started by renowned filmmaker Rithy Panh, that is collecting audiovisual documents relating to Cambodia to ensure they are not lost forever, and are made available to the Cambodian people in their own backyard. Good luck to Rithy Panh and his colleagues on their commendable endeavours.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An interview with Khmer film director Tim Pek

I caught up with Khmer film director Tim Pek, just before the release of his first feature film, The Red Sense. Born in Cambodia's second city of Battambang, Pek and his family moved to Australia to begin a new life in 1988 and after developing a passion for art, he became a graphic designer of some note in Melbourne before unexpectedly becoming exposed to film production for the first time when he took a small part in a short film. The Red Sense, or Vignean Krohom in Khmer, is the result of Pek's new found passion for film-making.

Tim Pek
Q. Tell me how The Red Sense came into being? A. Thanks for asking this question Andy. As you know I always wanted to look into a new medium, striving to find new challenges after many years in the graphic design industry. In late 2004 I was offered to play a small role in an Australian short film called Chhay, based on the life of two brothers, a legacy from two best friends, one of which died in the Pol Pot regime. Then a few months later I received a short movie from a friend of mine, which really gave me a big push to work on The Red Sense. The film was initially designed for a 10-15 minute short for film festivals, but due to a huge demand we decided to extend to a feature film.

Q. What's the movie about, and how close is it to completion? A. The core of this movie is about the lifestyle of the victim's daughter Melear, the son of the murder and the murderer all living abroad, and the problem needs to be solved. You can say its a sequel to the Killing Fields or a shockwave from the Killing Fields. We are working hard on public release in late 2006 or January 2007. The film can be seen in Cambodian cinemas, selected Australian cinemas, but we are still seeking an overseas distribution network. For more details, including a trailer, please check the movie's website at Initially the film was made for short film festivals, now the approx length is 1hour 20mins.

Q. Did you experience any difficulties in filming in Cambodia? A. Filming in Cambodia was superb, the rural sceneries took my breath away, the urban rich plantations and rice fields were beautiful. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 brought me to tears and confusion, I was speechless while entering each room and looking through those items. Its extremely captivative and inspired me to explore the past - our next generation should be better then the last. However, I never thought I would be lucky enough to capture such footage from Cambodia, as you know working on a shoestring budget what could I expect, but I am very content with what I have achieved.
Q. I see you have also recently shot a film called Annoyed, tell me more. A. You are quick! I don't know how you heard about this project, but its true. To be frank I wasn't planning to shoot this film at all, a friend of mine Ravy from SSB Production, convinced me to collaborate with him. After completing a documentary project on martial arts in Phnom Penh, I had 4 days left for Annoyed. One evening we did a brainstorm, next day script is done, the day after casts and crews, half of them had to travel all the way from Battambang to participate in the film. I was overwhelmed with the passion and motivation they have, again most of them have no acting background just like in The Red Sense. Its my first attempt at a Cambodian ghost film, locations were mostly in Phnom Penh and outskirts. The film is about a young mute and innocent girl who is haunted by a female ghost seeking to restore her justice. The film will be in Khmer with English subtitles and 30mins in length. An official website and trailer will be out in quarter 1 of 2007 and a DVD will be available in due course. By the way, the lead actor and actress are Chap Chenda and Ung Bunny, watch out for them.
My thanks to Tim Pek for sparing time to talk about his forthcoming films. Pek's co-writer on TRS was Rithy Dourng and the film's lead actors are the gorgeous Sarina Luy who plays Melear, Kaply Mon and Narith Eng. Included in the film soundtrack will be songs by Jimi Lundy ('Cambodia') and Robert Sedky ('Walk To Freedom').

Morricone's soloists

Often overlooked in the clamour surrounding Ennio Morricone and his performances are some of the outstanding classically-trained soloists from the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra that play key roles in bringing to life the music of the Maestro during his live concerts and on CD. The orchestra was founded in 1993 and have collaborated with Morricone for the last 12 years, performing in some of the best theatres in the world. The two know each other and trust each other to deliver and the London Apollo concerts this weekend did exactly that. Morricone is quick to identify and share the applause with his main soloists during his performances and three stood out for me, amongst the cream of the orchestra, at the concert on Friday evening. They were leading violinist Marco Serino (pictured top left), flutist Monica Berni (pictured right) and Carlo Romano on oboe (pictured bottom left). Serino, part of the celebrated Quartetto Bernini in Italy, was called upon to display his highly-tuned skills during the second part of the programme for Deborah's Theme from Once Upon A Time in America and Vatel. Monica Berni accompanied Morricone on his two previous visits to England in 2001 and 2003 and is his leading flutist during The Mission and elsewhere in the programme, while Carlo Romano has been a fixture, on oboe, with the Maestro for the last twenty-five years, and is the man behind the haunting Gabriel's Oboe. Both Berni and Romano were part of the Rai TV Orchestra for many years in Rome and are accredited soloists on many CD collaborations with Morricone such as his joint release with Dulce Pontes called Focus. You can visit Romano's website here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Morricone weaves his magic

The Maestro has done it again - in only his third visit to these shores to perform on stage with his very own backing band, well actually the Rome Sinfonietta Orchestra, he had the 3,000 Hammersmith Apollo punters on their feet time and again, demanding more of his baton-whirling as he brought to life some of his best-loved film scores from a seemingly endless career in producing memorable music. At 78, Ennio Morricone won't go on forever, so each of his appearances should be savoured and enjoyed as if they're his last, and Friday night at The Apollo - one of two concerts in the Don't Look Back series - was another sublime offering. I've now seen The Maestro in action on all three of his visits to London - the previous concerts were at The Barbican and Royal Albert Hall - and I wouldn't have missed them for all the tea in China.

Without the services of the sensational Dulce Pontes for this trip, Morricone revamped his normal play-list to include at least half a dozen pieces I've not heard played live before, starting with Novecento. For me, Pontes is an integral part of the Morricone performance, she adds another dimension, but her absence meant a different approach from the Maestro and increased the workload for both the Sinfonietta and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, both of whom stepped up to the mark. And of course, as ever, soprano Susanna Rigacci weaved her magic during the Sergio Leone section, whilst Guilda Butta did likewise on the piano. Other outstanding individual performances were given by Marco Serino on violin, Monica Berni's flute and Carlo Romano on oboe. Morricone feels comfortable with this orchestra and they feel comfortable with him, and it shows, with both at the absolute pinnacle of their game.

A nice surprise was the opening cue from one of tv's most popular entertainers, Jonathan Ross, who was effervescent in his introduction of the Maestro and had a front row seat for the two-hour performance. However, it was the adoration from the audience that prompted Morricone to leave the stage and then return for three encores, stiffly and coyly accepting the plaudits and appreciation from both the house and orchestra alike, but suggesting its the music that is the centrepiece, not the man himself. I must also mention Andrew & Andrea Allen from North Yorkshire who sat next to me - Andrew has been a devotee of Morricone since 1968 and was overjoyed to be seeing the Maestro in action for the first time. Both he and I went home very happy and contented people. You can read more about my Morricone experiences here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gabbidon & Friends

By the end of tomorrow, I'll have experienced two extremes of my own personal musical tastes with last night's History of Reggae show by Basil Gabbidon and numerous friends at The Jam House in Birmingham followed by a extremely rare concert performance in London on Friday night, by the Maestro himself, Ennio Morricone.

The ten-piece Gabbidon band, led by main vocalist Basil on guitar with his brother Colin on drums, kicked off their journey from ska through to roots reggae with 54-46 Was My Number, followed by Hey Fatty Bum-Bum and other songs, including the superb Love & Affection, with Basil sharing vocals with Leonie Smith (pictured) and Indigo. Lee Alexander hopped on stage to take the lead, with Sweat, Wear You To The Ball and an instrumental version of Natural Mystic - aided by Pete Reid on guitar - ending the first forty-five minutes of the show. Just after 11pm, the band re-appeared with the first of a number of guest singers, Dennis Seaton, a former member of Musical Youth, belting out a brilliant version of Shine. The lead vocals then changed hands between Lee, Indigo (singing Walk On By), Candice, Leonie (with Police & Thieves) and Miss Banton, Lee returned to sing Now That We've Found Love and Mister Bojangles before Yaz Alexander stepped up to the stage for Keep It Like It Is, with the night's jam-packed session ending with One Love a little after midnight. Top quality music-making and some fantastic vocals showcasing a wonderful array of talent at the disposal of Britain's second city. I'm told Gabbidon have now secured a regular slot at The Jam House, with their next showcase taking place on Wednesday 27th December, when they hope to include Neville Staple on their invite list.

You can read more about Gabbidon here. And I'll be back, sometime on Saturday, to enthuse about Mr Morricone. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can read about my previous Morricone experiences here.

Cambodia's Forgotten Children - documentary premier

The first of a handful of late nights and early mornings this week - hence the lack of Blog updates - was the premier screening of Matt Wenham and Chris Cook's 30-minute documentary, Cambodia's Forgotten Children on Tuesday at the Picturedrome in Northampton. The film was shot in January as part of their final year project for their media degree course with Matt and Chris' aim to raise awareness of the problems facing Cambodia's children, working with six local NGOs who are assisting the vulnerable and underprivileged kids in Phnom Penh. The main NGO was the Southeast Asian Children's Mercy Fund and they interviewed co-founder and author Sophal Leng Stagg, alongwith representatives from the five other agencies. The documentary was well-constructed and gave the large audience plenty to think about as they settled down to an evening of fundraising activities that included an auction, raffle, live music from Brendan Read-Jones & the Travelling Light band and a stills photography exhibition by Lara Holmes, who joined Matt and Chris for part of their Cambodia trip. A very enjoyable night was had by all and the guys have done a great job with the documentary. I also recommend you have a look at Sara's work at her website and the Children's Mercy Fund website too.

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Tomorrow (Friday 1 December) is the final day of the 2006 Angkor Photography Festival, being held at various venues in Siem Reap, the home of Cambodia's Angkor temples. The festival brings together a veritable who's who of famous and passionate photographers like Philip Jones Griffiths, Roland Neveu, John McDermott and many others in the spirit of creativity and sharing. It showcases print exhibitions and outdoor projections by renowned artists and photo-journalists, but differentiates itself from other festivals with its strong humanitarian goals. By offering free workshops for young Asian photographers and developing outreach projects for needy Cambodian youth, participants contribute their art and their time, demonstrating that photography can really change lives. You can read all about the festival here.
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To find out more about a forthcoming documentary being put together by two professional stuntmen from Florida, Kevin Ball and John Evanko, which they will call Freedon Fields, go to their website here. The film will focus on the work that Mia Hamwey and her Freedom Fields group have been doing to raise funds for vital demining work in Cambodia, with the help of the Halo Trust. Filming will take place in Cambodia and the US early in 2007.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Jimi Lundy - love ballads a speciality

If you haven't heard of singer-songwriter Jimi Lundy, check him out immediately. This talented musician was born in Battambang, Cambodia and now resides in Melbourne, Australia, and released his first album, Steal My Heart, a couple of years ago. You can hear samples from the album here. It contains ten original songs, penned by Jimi and friends, and is an excellent collection of sentimental love ballads, heartfelt lyrics and catchy melodies. One of the tracks, Cambodia, will feature in the soon to be released film by director Tim Pek called Red Sense.
I caught up with Jimi in Melbourne and he tells me, "my second ep is very close to completion, it will feature six brand new songs...the direction of the ep will be closer to the real me as it will feature more ballads and soft rock with a blend of string quartets and piano. I perform very often in Melbourne and other states and have returned to Cambodia twice now, and performed with some of the biggest names in Cambodia, however I choose to base my career here in Melbourne..." Jimi and his family arrived in Australia in 1983 and with a lot of hard work behind him, he's at a point now where the quality of his voice and his songwriting talent certainly deserve a wider audience. You can find out more about Jimi Lundy at his website and on MySpace.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Can you help Sitthy?... & Sok Sreymom

Saem Sitthy is just 23 years old but three months ago her life changed forever when she was diagnosed with kidney failure. Up til then Sitthy's passion was to help her fellow Khmer people, and contribute to the development of her poverty-stricken country. The daughter of subsistence farmers in Battambang, she had graduated from university with an outstanding record and was working in the NGO field, most recently in children's rights. Quite simply, she and her family are unable to afford the necessary medical expenses to sustain her life, so friends of this courageous young woman are seeking monetary help. You can read more about Sitthy's plight at

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In my desire to bring to your attention some of the Cambodian singers entertaining the Khmer communities in the USA and beyond, I'd like to introduce you to the beautiful Sok Sreymom, known as the Khmer Siren, who moved to the States twelve years ago and has been winning over fans with her exquisite voice and graceful beauty ever since. Before her move, she was recognised as one of Cambodia's best actresses, appearing in many films, television shows and karaoke videos and spent two years travelling with King Norodom Sihanouk's entourage as a cultural ambassador. As a child, she lost her father during the Khmer Rouge regime and ran away from home at sixteen before being spotted and introduced into the movie business. Today her star is shining brightly amongst the large Khmer community in the US and you can find out more about Sok Sreymom at her website or on her MySpace webpage.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dy Saveth - back on stage

My blog post about Dy Saveth, dubbed Cambodia's Bridgette Bardot, which you can view here, has been followed up by our very own Phnom Penh based correspondent, Jinja, with this review of Dy Saveth's latest public performance. Now 62, Dy Saveth is still making films - she was better known as an actress during the golden age of Khmer film-making in the '60s and '70s - but is now making a splash as a singer, and a professor of fine arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts!

Gig review: Dy Saveth at Salt Lounge, Saturday the 18th November, 8pm:
I didn't see any flyers but got word via text message that a classic star was going to perform, so Saturday the place to be was Salt Lounge, Phnom Penh. A special tent and stage was set up outside main bar, with balloons, banners and a few tricked out motos for flair. By 8:30 pm the tent was pretty packed, fairly mixed between foreigners and locals. Many had never seen Dy Saveth, and were curious to get a look. First to appear was Leang Seckon, who in addition to being a painter has done some professional karaoke. He was joined soon after by Dy Saveth (to enthusiastic applause) who sang solo tunes (in Khmer and French) and some duets with Seckon. While at some concerts people wave lighters aloft, this show was characterized by people holding up their phone cameras to get a good shot. Its was very retro-Cambodia-kitsch, in the best sort of way. No set list alas, but there were many familar sounds. Most of the audience stuck around for a drag show that followed, and things wound down by about 11pm. The general consensus after the show was 'when's the next one'? I'll post news if and when I hear. [here's a photo of Dy Saveth performing at the Salt Louge, courtesy of Jinja].

Reggaebaby Jean Mclean hits top note

Jean Mclean (left) with Yaz Alexander.
Birmingham's very own Reggaebaby, Jean Mclean, last night put on a mightily impressive performance of lovers rock reggae rhythms, superbly backed by the Memphis band, a full brass section and backing singers, Rankin Bev and Anne-Marie. The Ipanema bar in the city centre provided the setting that attracted a good crowd for a promotion by John Morris' Nurvrax Productions. Following a vocal warm-up by Memphis brothers Earl and Keith Robinson, Jean Mclean opened up her initial half hour set of half a dozen of her own songs with her theme tune, I'm A Reggaebaby, from her album of the same name, followed by So In Love, Baby You, Stand Up, Boyfriend and Longtime. Self-assured and accomplished in her execution, Jean's voice was powerful and potent, her backing singers providing precise harmonies, and Alvin Davis (sax), Liz Ralls (trumpet) and Errol (trombone) adding an extra brass dimension that can never be substituted by keyboard wizardry.
For her second set, lasting just under an hour, Jean paid tribute to some of the reggae legends she most admires. Accompanied by Maurice Simpson on keyboards and Alvin Davis on sax, she began with Bob Marley's Waiting In Vain and was rejoined by the rest of the band (John Irish - guitar, Anthony Caines - bass, Victor Gift - drums) for Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly. For the first of two Dennis Brown numbers, she teamed up for a duet with Peter Spence, before songs penned by Marley and Eddy Grant were split by her own very catchy number, Goodbye. Joined briefly by Yaz Alexander for Living on the Frontline, Jean closed her set with a repeat of her theme song, I'm A Reggaebaby, to a well-deserved ovation. I urge everyone to catch the next Jean Mclean live performance - you'll be glad you did. In the meantime, to find out more, go to

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The most famous Khmer movie actor?

These questions are always open to debate, but you will find many a supporter who'll agree that the most famous, handsome and gifted male Khmer movie actor of the '60s and '70 was Kong Song Eurn (also known as Kong Seum Eeum and Kong Sam Oeun). Starring in many movies from that golden period of Khmer film-making, Kong (pictured) lost his life, like so many of the well-known faces from the silver screen, during the Pol Pot regime but his work lives on and can now be viewed on YouTube. Perhaps the most loved film of that period, a typical story of boy and girl romance, was Orn Euy Srey Orn, starring Kong and his female lead Virak Dara. Shot in 1973, it contains songs from the undisputed king of that period, Sinn Sisamouth, and can now be viewed on YouTube. I believe Kong was survived by his brother, Kong Chantha, who was a well-known singer. If you can fill in some of the blanks about the life & times of Kong Song Eurn, please let me know.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Orientations - top magazine

Orientations is a glossy magazine aimed at collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art and the latest issue, Vol 37 # 8 Nov/Dec 2006, is a 'must have' for anyone interested in finding out more about the art of the Angkor civilization in Cambodia. It previews the forthcoming 'Angkor - Sacred Heritage of Cambodia' exhibition to be held in Germany and Switzerland (mid-December to April 2007) and contains no less than thirty pages and six articles on various aspects of the Khmer heritage. Its published in Hong Kong and is available on subscription here. In addition to the Angkor spread, the limelight is shared with articles extolling the virtues of the sacred Chola bronzes from Southern India which are on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until the end of February.

As for the Angkor articles, the co-curator of the Bonn exhibition, Helen Jessup discusses the early art of the ancient Khmers, accompanied by gorgeous photos by John Gollings, whilst Wibke Lobo highlights some of the key elements of the exhibition including the bronze Vishnu found at the West Mebon in Angkor. Over 100 of the finest pieces of Khmer art will travel from Cambodia to Germany for the show. Brilliant scholar Ang Choulean explores the traditions of the linga in Cambodia, while Hab Touch and Lucie Folan of the National Museum discuss Khmer art held overseas and recent instances where sculptures have been identified and reunited through international efforts. Far too much of the Khmer heritage is held abroad in museums or private collections and its high time these antiquities were returned to their rightful home. HeritageWatch director Dougald O'Reilly makes it quite clear that urgent efforts need to continue to stem the flow of artefacts leaving Cambodia and his organization are at the forefront of that battle to keep them in their homeland, as I've highlighted in previous postings on my blog.

Perhaps the most interesting article in the Angkor section of the magazine is a second piece by Helen Jessup, where she introduces a few of the elder statesmen as well as some of their younger and dynamic students, who are among those making a real difference in various fields like archaeology and ceramics. Jessup provides an insight into the individuals and gleans from them, a view of the current challenges facing Cambodia's cultural identity. She interviews people of the stature of Vann Molyvann, Ang Choulean and statesman and archaeologist Son Soubert, alongwith architects Hok Sokol and Long Nary, and ceramics experts like Ea Darith, Pich Thyda and Chap Sopheara. Ly Daravuth of the Reyum Institute, and Hab Touch, deputy director of the National Museum are deservedly highlighted, as is the Museum's director Khun Samen (pictured), who has recently celebrated a decade in charge after taking over from Pich Keo. All in all, an excellent magazine and well worth getting hold of a copy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hab Touch - Khmer heritage in his hands

One of the key personnel at Cambodia's National Museum is the deputy director, Hab Touch, who's responsible for co-ordinating the international exhibitions of Khmer art that have appeared in Korea, Japan and from December this year, in Bonn, Germany. With a master's degree in conservation and restoration from the Polish University of Torun, Touch (pictured) has recently contributed an article on Khmer sculpture held abroad and the efforts being made to relocate important items of Khmer art in the latest edition of the fine arts magazine, Orientations. The folks at Orientations have sent me a copy of their latest issue and its a superbly produced glossy magazine that devotes thirty pages to articles on the Angkor heritage, furnished with a selection of excellent photographs [I''ll comment more on the magazine in another blog post].

Under Hab Touch's leadership, the National Museum is currently updating its collection records, as well as those of its provincial collections. Within the museum past collection catalogues are being digitally archived and the objects in storage and on display checked against them. This is the first time a comprehensive inventory has been made referencing old catalogues since the museum reopened in 1979 and will clarify the condition of the collection and what has gone missing during the Khmer Rouge period. The Collection Inventory Project is being funded through the generosity of Shelby White through the Leon Levy Foundation. An inventory of provincial museum and cultural office collections, funded by Friends of Khmer Culture, is also being undertaken by a team from the National Museum. In fact, Touch presented a paper to a conference on Angkor at The University of Sydney in July on the provincial museum project. Improved record keeping is considered a practical measure to safeguard future losses of Cambodian art to the black market. Today the National Museum holds around 15,000 objects, the majority of which are in storage, and the collection is growing every year as more pieces are discovered, donated or returned to the Museum.

Read more about the forthcoming exhibition of Khmer art in Germany here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cambodia on UK television

What an inspired choice for one of 5 people to profile - gallery guards, museum attendants and cleaners - whose job it is to look after works of art. Cambodia's very own favourite leaf-sweeper, Choun Nhiem, was chosen to represent this unsung group of people for an hour long tv programme on BBC last night. Presented by Alan Yentob, Imagine - Who Cares about Art?, cut to Nhiem talking about his life and his work at the Angkor temple of Ta Prohm throughout the programme, alongside visits to places like the Louvre gallery in Paris and St Petersburg's Hermitage, as they explained the daily lives of this representative group. It was clear that Nhiem won't go on forever and featuring in this programme was a fitting testament to his life's work, which you can read more about here.

Another Cambodian will feature on television tomorrow night, in the ITV documentary, My New Face. Dealing with the stories of children with badly disfigured faces, two remarkable craniofacial surgeons Martin Kelly and Norman Waterhouse, devote their free time and skills to the UK charity Facing The World and this includes 12-year old Ney, who lives in a shack in Cambodia and is frequently stoned by children in his village. The programme shows the surgeons achieving remarkable transformations for the four children they're able to help.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Reggae Fever at The Drum

Last night was one of those occasions when Birmingham played host to some top class reggae singers but the lack of promotion and advertising meant that the crowd was much smaller than it should have been. Let's face it, when someone of the stature of Marcia Griffiths is on the bill, The Drum should've been packed to the rafters to celebrate alongwith this icon of the reggae world. It wasn't. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself and Ms Griffiths, a sprightly 57 years old, gave a masterclass in how to entertain her adoring fans. As one of the famous I-Threes that accompanied Bob Marley on his barrier-breaking tours around the globe, and as one-half of the duo Bob and Marcia, she's seen it all and still packs a considerable punch. Backing her were the Ruff Cut Band from London, who'd provided the sound for the two previous acts, Prince Malachi and Sylvia Tella.

In true laid-back style, the evening's entertainment finally kicked-off at midnight with one of my own favourite singers, Yaz Alexander (pictured), pumping out three songs, This World, Forward and I. On stage for less than ten minutes, but with show-time at a premium because of the late start, it wasn't nearly long enough, though in typical Yaz style, she gave it everything. Next up was Tenor Star who also gave stage-time to the powerful and gifted Claire Angel before Sylvia Tella took to the stage, accompanied by Yaz as her backing vocalist. Sylvia sings lovers-rock style and is popular in the UK though she spends a lot of her time in Brazil these days. Included in her five-song performance were Plastic Smile, Special Way and Groove with the Times, which went down well with the audience. It was the first time I'd seen Sylvia live - she spent a couple of years as a backing vocalist with Steel Pulse at the end of the '90s - and she has a great voice and bubbly stage presence. All in all, a night packed with musical talent and hugely enjoyable, but the promoters really need to get their act together to pull in the punters.

You can find out more about Yaz here. In addition, MySpace is a goldmine of information on Yaz Alexander, Sylvia Tella and Claire Angel, and much more besides.

Catching the Chhom Nimol fever

Okay, so I'm lagging well behind all the regular news media, etc in highlighting the band Dengue Fever, but I'll do it anyway. Fronted by the gorgeous Chhom Nimol, the band play a unique fusion of 60's psychedelic pop rock with Nimol (pictured) singing in her native Cambodian language and to be honest they're taking the international music market by storm. In my simple mind, not dissimilar to the way the B-52's caught on a few years ago. Nimol was plucked from a Long Beach nightclub to join the all American band and two albums later, Dengue Fever and last year's Escape from Dragon House (the name of Nimol's nightclub) have gone down particularly well. They were also featured on the soundtrack to the Matt Dillon film, City of Ghosts. At the back end of 2005, the band paid a visit to Cambodia and will be featured on the forthcoming film, Don't Think I've Forgotten. To find out more about this emerging phenomena, click here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Brandon Eang - documenting his past

Film-maker Brandon Eang has to-date completed two documentaries about the country of his birth, Cambodia. The 36 year old teacher (pictured), based in Massachusetts, became a US citizen in 1997 and adopted the name Brandon, retaining his Khmer name of Wathana as his middle name. He had arrived in the States in 1981 from a Thai-border camp with the surviving members of his family and originally settled in California. His film work began when he returned to Cambodia in 1999 and produced an hour-long documentary called Floating on Lotus Flowers, in partnership with Matt Scott. The title came from an incident in his childhood where his life was saved by lotus flowers that kept him afloat after he was thrown into a pond to die. He lost two younger siblings who died of malnutrition before the Vietnamese liberated the camp they were held in. His documentary is based on his story of survival. His second documentary is called Devotion and it was filmed in 2002 and 2003. Dedicated to his mother, it looks at Cambodia from the female perspective and particularly around marriage customs. In addition to his film-making, his return visits to Cambodia have enabled him to raise funds for the village where he was born, Prek Temeak.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar

The story of my discovery of the satellite temples surrounding the huge fortress complex of Banteay Chhmar, in the northwestern corner of Cambodia, can be read here. It took place in January 2005 and four of the eight temples I found nearby have retained their own massive towers with smiling Bayon-style Avalokitesvara faces surveying the surrounding countryside. Whilst some were difficult to access due to the dense vegetation, all were remarkably close to the main site and make a visit to this important Jayavarman VII-period temple at Banteay Chhmar all the more interesting and challenging.

However, I wasn't the only visitor to these temples in 2005. Architect Olivier Cunin, a researcher with the Centre for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, and photographer Baku Saito spent weeks at the site documenting each of the satellite temples, alongwith the main complex for their book, The Face Towers of Banteay Chmar. To-date, the book (pictured above) has only been published in Japan by Goto Shoin in Tokyo. However I did see a copy at the EFEO library in Siem Reap and the detail is incredible.

Angkor's Sacred Heritage

In September I mentioned the forthcoming exhibition to be held in Germany, called Angkor - Sacred Heritage of Cambodia. Read more here. It will run from mid-December until April 2007 in Bonn and then move to Berlin and Zurich. Some 130 pieces from the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the Angkor Conservation in Siem Reap and the Battambang museum will actually leave Cambodia while other objects will be loaned to the exhibition from the National Museum in Bangkok and the Guimet Museum in Paris. The 119 pieces from the National Museum in Phnom Penh include 59 stone, seven wooden and 43 bronze artworks, plus seven paintings and three palm-leaf books, and while the artworks are absent, the museum will replace them with items from its vast reserve collection, which are usually kept housed in the basement.

In the brand new issue of Orientations, the leading Asian art magazine (Vol 37, No 8, Nov/Dec issue), published in Hong Kong and available on subscription here, the joint curators of the exhibition, Helen Jessup and Wibke Lobo, highlight many objects which were archaeologically retrieved during the French colonial period in Cambodia. Ang Choulean explores the traditions of the linga in Cambodia, while Hab Touch and Lucie Folan of the National Museum describe instances where sculptures have been reconstituted through recent international efforts. In another article, Helen Jessup pays tribute to some of the individuals who have been responsible for Cambodia's current cultural renaissance, whilst Dougald O'Reilly comments on the looting of Cambodia's historic sites. This issue of Orientations, a specialist magazine that has been running for over thirty-five years, is a must for Cambodia enthusiasts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New books, MySpace and Skype

Book publishers Routledge bring out about 1,000 new books every year and have just published Expressions of Cambodia - The politics of tradition, identity and change. Its a 224 page look at contemporary Cambodian culture at home and abroad with international contributors like Robert Turnbull who looks at the revival of the traditional arts, or Ian Harris who investigates Cambodian Buddhism since the end of the DK regime. The editors are University of Sydney based Tim Winter and Siem Reap resident Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier. Also coming out of the Routledge stable this year have been Rice Plus and Family Solidarity by Susan H Lee, which focused on rural Cambodian widows, and Colonial Cambodia's Bad Frenchmen - The rise of French rule and the life story of Thomas Caraman 1840-1887. Gregor Mueller, who lives on an island in the Mekong, wrote the latter book.

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I can't recall whether I've mentioned it before, but a few months ago I joined the thousands who've registered themselves on and I have my own homepage at Pop by and add me as a friend if you have nothing better to do! Actually, I've 'met' a bunch of very nice people through MySpace and you may be plesasantly surprised to find who else has a MySpace page.
On the 'connecting with friends around the world' theme, I've also just hooked up with and you can skype me at And2007. I'm only on chat at the moment until I get off my butt and buy myself a headset and microphone. However, it's good to talk....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Famous Khmer movie idols

Whilst surfing the net for information on Dy Saveth, I entered the world of the famous Khmer movie idols of the '60s and '70s, and in particular, the gorgeous Vichara Dany (pictured), who made 100's of films during those golden years of Cambodian movie-making but lost her life during the Khmer Rouge years, and actor Chea Yuthon. Whilst Vichara Dany was a darling of film fans in Cambodia, both Dy Saveth and Chea Yuthon were particularly well-known in neighbouring Thailand, mainly for their starring roles in the Pos Keng Kong (Snake Girl) movie, that spawned two follow-on films and an updated remake in the last few years. Its a Khmer folk tale that is loved in both countries.

The story behind Chea Yuthon is particularly intriguing, though I have only part of the story. There were rumours that he was still alive today and living in Thailand, his adopted country, but this is now believed to be false. The story goes that when the Khmer Rouge captured him and the Thais heard about it, they traded his life for a thousand trucks of oil that the Khmer Rouge badly needed. He was likened to a Khmer version of Jackie Chan due to his martial art skills. After a spell in China as a student, instead of becoming a civil engineer as was expected, he came back home to become a movie star and a martial arts expert. If anyone has more information about Vichara Dany or Chea Yuthon, please let me know.

Dy Saveth - Cambodia's Bridgette Bardot

I'm hoping someone can tell me more about one of Cambodia's most famous faces, movie actress Dy Saveth, who was dubbed the Cambodian Bridgette Bardot in her heyday and who at 62 years of age, has lost none of her vivacity and sparkle. Today Dy Saveth is a professor of fine arts at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and is sharing the secret of her success with Cambodia's next generation. Indeed, her latest film, The Crocodile, released in 2005 and directed by Mao Ayuth, is regarded as one of the country's finest for many years. Perhaps her most famous film role was as the Snake Girl in the 1971 adaptation of a Khmer folk tale, though she starred in a great many films including Crepuscule (Twilight), in 1969, a film directed by and starring Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Monique. Dy Saveth, a face known to all of Cambodia's cinema-goers in the '60s and '70s, managed to escape from the turmoil of Phnom Penh in 1975 and settled in France, one of the very few actors to survive the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge.

If you have more details about the life and career of Dy Saveth, please let me know.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cambodia's Rock & Roll

A brand new film, currently in post production, is in the pipeline and focuses on the heady days of Cambodia's rock and roll years in the '60s and early '70s. Titled Don't Think I've Forgotten, the film celebrates the music and the people who created it, and who are alive today to tell the story. Director John Pirozzi is in charge, having been involved in Matt Dillon's film City of Ghosts that was set in Cambodia, and has also just finished shooting a film about the LA-based band Dengue Fever's first trip to Cambodia. Interest in this style of music is gathering pace and Dengue Fever are at the forefront of the revival. The film's website is here.

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Artist Sasha Constable has organised an exhibition, Building Peace, of de-commissioned weapons that have been sculpted into various forms by art students from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. The exhibition is taking place at the Hotel De La Paix in Siem Reap and runs til 22 November. Sasha is currently managing a new contemporary art gallery in Siem Reap promoting young Khmer artists, next to the old market, at The Art House. You can find out a lot more at their website. Thanks to Jinja for highlighting these snippets.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Recognition for Somaly Mam

You may recall that I highlighted the incredible work being done by one of Cambodia's very own heroines' Somaly Mam in a blog post in May. If you don't, click here. I desperately want to get hold of her book released earlier this year but its not been published in English so far. The latest news is that Somaly Mam was yesterday awarded a prestigious Woman of the Year Award by the US magazine Glamour at a ceremony in New York. The statement from Glamour reads: "Somaly Mam is an inspiration to women around the world. She overcame horrific childhood abuse and has devoted her life to rescuing other girls from similar fates. She's bringing the issue of sexual slavery to the attention of the world, thus giving the hundreds of thousands of children who are currently enslaved in brothels a real shot at a better life." Deserved praise and a deserved award, which is given each year to 'gutsy female leaders in their field who inspire us all'. The story of Somaly's work is told in this Glamour article, though be warned, the story has a real sting in it. Below is a photo of Somaly Mam, right, and a girl she saved from sexual slavery accepting the award at the 2006 ceremony in New York.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

MSAVLC & All Ears

The Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (MSAVLC) charity is a group I've been aware of since I was campaigning back in the 1980s & 90s for the British government to cease recognising the Khmer Rouge coalition. At that time MSAVLC were one of the few groups with a keen interest in Cambodia and Vietnam, when everyone else was turning their back on them. Its an organisation that provides medicine and medical equipment so that doctors and nurses can carry out the work that they are qualified and eager to do. Their emphasis is on support for grass-roots, primary health care projects, primarily for children, and that includes repair of hare lip and cleft palate, cataract operations, treatment and prevention of trachoma, training courses for midwives, provision of hearing aids and so on. In Cambodia they support All Ears Cambodia - more later - and the Disability Development Services in Pursat. You can find out more about them on their new website. And you can support them at their fundraising gig on Saturday 11 November at the Ad Lib club, Fulham Road, London where Threewheeler will perform.

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All Ears Cambodia is leading the way in providing relief for people with hearing impairment and deafness and the preservation and protection of hearing in Cambodia.Their work focuses on vulnerable and marginalized groups within Cambodia, including children and adults from families of minimal social and economic status, physically disabled children, children with other sensory disabilities, children infected with HIV, families affected by landmines, and families living in vulnerable circumstances, such as displaced communities and ones living in mine-affected areas. And its all free. Its an all Khmer operation aside from its director and consultant audiologist and all round good guy, Glyn Vaughan. Their Street 240 headquarters in Phnom Penh is complemented by their outreach programme in three provinces. And their tongue-in-cheek website is worth a visit too.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Forthcoming gigs...

I've been a bit slow on updating my blog about some of the forthcoming gigs from my favourite musicians, so its catch-up time:

Yaz Alexander has a few dates coming up, including this afternoon at the African Heritage Day of Celebration in Birmingham city centre. Also playing will be Gabbidon, led by Basil and featuring Leonie Smith. Regrettably, I can't make the event as its FA Cup day today and I'll be watching Kidderminster Harriers against Droylsden! If I could split myself in half, I would. Yaz (pictured) has a busy schedule ahead of her over the next couple of months and these include appearances at the Music Live event at the NEC on 4 & 5 November, supporting Sylvia Tella and Marcia Griffiths who are at The Drum in Birmingham on Friday 10 November and the Gotham Records Christmas Party in 4 December.

Meanwhile, Gabbidon will make a second appearance at the Jam House in Birmingham on Wednesday, 29 November (9pm) with Yaz guesting on a couple of songs. Jean Mclean, the original Reggaebaby, will be fronting the band Memphis on Sunday 19 November at the Ipanema Bar in Broad Street, Birmingham (7.30pm), singing tracks from her album I'm A Reggaaebaby and paying tribute to artists like Dennis Brown and Bob Marley.

Taking a break from reggae, the legendary Ennio Morricone will be performing at Hammersmith Apollo on Friday 1 December, in the concert re-arranged from the Summer. It'll be only the maestro's third ever appearance in the UK and I'll be there, come hell or high-water. To round off the year in fantastic style, the annual Cry No More christmas party has now been booked for Saturday 23 December (doors 8pm) at the Turks Head, Winchester Road, St Margarets, Twickenham. Roy Hill is now fully recovered from his malaise and will be joined by his deadpan partner Chas Cronk for a night full of merriment and top class entertainment. It'll be a scorcher. You can read about previous christmas parties here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign

No-one can ever accuse the folks at HeritageWatch of standing still. Committed to preserving Cambodia's rich cultural heritage through education projects and campaigns, they kick-off their brand new Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign next month and are leaving no stone unturned in preaching their message, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, in a nationwide appeal. The campaign will seek to promote responsible tourism that'll include arts festivals, arts and crafts expositions, architecture tours, golf tournaments, seminars and expert speaker tours, whilst businesses will be encouraged to become Heritage Friendly. They want to highlight the projects implemented by research teams and arts/culture groups via Insight Magazine with a print run of 100,000 that will be distributed widely to visitors. If you aren't already aware of HW and their tireless efforts, read about them and their new campaign here. My own webpage on HW can be found here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A little slice of Cambodia

A little slice of Cambodia came to my neck of the woods last night in the form of the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry dance tour of the UK. The tour is nearing its end prior to the group spending a month in France and the Royal Forest of Dean Theatre in Coleford was the venue for this performance, a mixture of Khmer classical and folk dance with some modern elements thrown in for good measure. The tour group was made up of twelve children and three adults and their performance of such classics as the Coconut, Peacock, Fan and Fishing dances were faultless and entertaining for the large audience, which included many children. The CCAM School in Phnom Penh is primarily a home for disadvantaged children and provides the kids with shelter, schooling and promotes the Christian faith. The evening's performance incorporated the Christian message but it wasn't overbearing for a non-believer like myself and it was great to see some of the younger performers meeting up with many of the local children after the show ended. You can find out more about CCAMS here, whilst the tour was sponsored by the SAO Cambodia development agency.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Oh, stop complaining....

I remember this moment as though it was yesterday, even though it took place five years ago next month. I usually time my Cambodia trips to avoid the wet season so the broken branches and debris underfoot made this paddle one heck of a painful trek in the forest surrounding the village of Svay Chek, some 25 kms north of Angkor, as we searched for remote temples. I even complained, lightheartedly, that the policeman behind me didn't offer to give me a 'piggy-back' lift through this flooded part of the forest!

Our target temple was Prasat Phnom Dei. My guides deliberated on the best way to approach the temple, hidden in a dense wood, as our way was blocked by waterlogged meadows and trails. They agreed that fording the flooded track was the only answer, so off came my shoes and socks, as we waded up to our thighs through parts of the route. Whilst their feet are hardened to such conditions, the vegetation and debris underwater made it a painful experience for my delicate soles, much to my companion's amusement. In all it took us forty minutes to hack our way through the almost impenetrable forest to the temple. Ah, the things we do for fun...

Read more about this adventure here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eco-tourism & vultures on the map

Cambodia is in the horns of a dilemma, its people need to utilise the land to settle and produce rice and other crops, its wildlife needs natural habitat to survive. Its a dilemma faced by countries across the globe. In Cambodia, the natural habitat is dwindling at a fast rate, so the necessity to identify and promote eco-tourism before its too late has never been more important. At the forefront of this battle is the Wildlife Conservation Society, who are working in tandem with the government and local communities in Cambodia to promote wildlife conservation. Current projects are focusing on developing bird-watching at several sites across northern Cambodia with these sites designed to engage local communities in conservation, through establishing links between tourism income and donations, local community development and nature conservation. Some of the bird species that can be seen are amongst the rarest in Southeast Asia, including the critically endangered Giant Ibis, Bengal Florican and others. The key sites are the large waterbird colonies at Prek Toal, the ibises at Tmatboey near Tbeng Meanchey, the floricans in Kompong Thom and the cranes at Ang Trapeang Thmor.

One of the more unusual schemes is the vulture 'restaurant' in Chhep district, some five hours drive to the east of Tbeng Meanchey. WCS works closely with the local community to provide vulture watchers with an opportunity to see rare white-rumped (pictured above), slender-billed and red-headed vultures. Giant Ibises can be seen in the area, in addition to adjutants, cranes, and many others including white-winged ducks. WCS maintains a forest camp for tourists and field staff about 1km from the vulture feeding station. A complete restaurant takes 5-6 days, from killing the cow to when the vultures leave the area. Peak numbers are seen on days 2-4. The restaurant costs around $200 to organize which includes the cost of the cow, maintaining hides, and WCS field rangers, transport, food and accommodation is extra. On the subject of vultures, the latest census has just been completed using a series of vulture restaurants conducted in seven locations across northern Cambodia. The results show an encouraging increase in the total population of vultures from 160 in 2004 to nearly 250 earlier this year. You can find out more about the work of WCS in Cambodia here.

Come join the party

Matt Wenham & Chris Cook, documentary film-makers, are hosting an event at the Picturedrome Pub in Kettering Rd, Northampton on 28 November that will raise money for deprived children in Cambodia, with all proceeds going to the local NGOs featured in their film, Cambodia's Forgotten Children. Tickets are £20 each, the event kicks off at 7pm and will include the first screening of their documentary, an auction and raffle, live music from Brendan Read-Jones and a photography exhibition by Lara Holmes. You can call Matt on 07793764410 or email him here for tickets.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kratie's rare dolphins

Like so many before and after me, the rare Irrawaddy dolphins that populate the Mekong River in ever-diminishing numbers, were a key reason for visiting Kratie back in December 2000. At the time, I managed to see quite a few of the smooth-headed grey dolphins break the surface at a viewing point called Kampi, which is recognised as the best place to spot these mermaids of the sea. Figures vary, but around 100 dolphins are believed to live in the Mekong between Kratie and the Lao border area, though its a constant worry that fishing, contamination and degradation of their habitat, as well as plans to build large dams on the river upstream in China, will further dilute this precarious population. Because of their tourism value and the need to preserve their numbers, the Irrawaddy dolphins of Kratie are a high priority these days and the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project works in tandem with the Cambodian government, NGOs and the local populace to raise awareness and develop effective conservation and community programs. However, its a constant battle to save these beautiful creatures. You can find out more here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rithy Panh's dream is realized

Rithy Panh is known internationally for his film-making talents in such features as Rice People and S-21, but in the 90s, he realized that Cambodia's audiovisual heritage was in a critical state. After decades of civil war and strife, the few archives that had been spared seemed to be waiting for time, tropical heat and dust to complete the work of erasing them. The concerns of Panh (pictured on the set of his film S-21) echoed those of the film-maker Ieu Pannakar, who was then responsible for the cinematic division within the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry. The two men dreamt about creating an audiovisual heritage that would play a key role in the expression of a nation’s identity and in the constitution of its heritage.

Now, with technical and financial support from France, the project of collecting the Cambodian audiovisual heritage - in the form of film, photographs, audio tapes and archive material including six Lumiere films dating back to 1899 and shot in Phnom Penh and Angkor - will be realized on 4 December when the Bophana Resource Center will officially open its doors to the public. By choosing the name of Bophana, the Center hopes to bear witness to the message of dignity and courage exemplified by this young woman during her detention in S-21. A brand new website has just been unveiled, here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fred Lipp's so-called retirement

As an introduction to Fred Lipp, children's author and founder of the Cambodian Arts & Scholarship Foundation, here's a story from Money Magazine in America dated October 2005:
"The most important thing in my life right now is to be part of the answer," says Fred. Before he retired, Unitarian Universalist minister Frederick Lipp believed that he and his wife Kitty (pictured) had a pretty good fix on their future. Nothing grand, mind you: They'd retire to a small arboretum in Maine established by Fred's father. Shortly before this idyll was to begin, however, Fred, then 58, found time to write a children's book. It changed everything. Called The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, the book is based on a Cambodian custom. For a few pennies, a person buys a small caged bird and makes a wish. The bird is then released. If it flies free, the wish is granted. But because the birds are domesticated, they usually return to the seller's cage. Lipp wrote of a Cambodian girl who yearns to escape poverty and eventually discovers how to release a bird that finds freedom and grants her wish.

In 2001, a year after the book was finished, he visited Cambodia for the first time. He was overwhelmed by the plight of countless girls who were unschooled, exploited in the sex trade, living in wretched conditions. With a few thousand dollars drawn from his and Kitty's modest assets, he established the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation (CASF). Its mission: to help as many girls as possible, affording them clean water, health care and a basic education. Today, running the foundation leaves little time for the arboretum or anything else. While Kitty earns a modest salary as a school guidance counselor, Fred raises money. "When I'm in Cambodia," he says, "I promise the girls I'll do all I can to make their dreams happen." Does he ever long for the peaceful golden years he once anticipated? Hardly. "Retirement," he says, "is a lousy word."

Whilst CASF goes from strength to strength, nurturing and supporting the education of over 275 young girls across Cambodia - read about their vital work here - Fred continues to write lavishly illustrated children's books and will be in London in November to promote his latest book, Running Shoes, with illustrations by Jason Gaillard. It tells the story of Sophy who is able to run the eight kilometres to school each day with the aid of her new shoes. Along with Caged Birds and his other books, these are invaluable tools to aid the education of young children about different cultures.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Veasna Chea - bringing 'good fortune'

Her name means 'good fortune' and that's exactly what she brings people who come into contact with her. Veasna Chea is a shining example of how one individual can make a real difference to the lives of so many others. She's not alone, there are many examples of individuals throughout Cambodia making a significant difference for the better. However, I'm proud to call Veasna, and her husband Peter Leth, good friends so here's a bit more about Veasna and her story so far.

Currently, Veasna is the associate director of the Harpswell Foundation and is their principal Cambodian partner, in the construction of a school in Tramung Chrum and in the last few months, completion of the first women's dormitory providing housing for females attending university in Phnom Penh. Veasna's father and three siblings were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Overcoming tremendous odds, she finished high school and then law school. She was the fourth woman to receive a law degree in Cambodia and graduated first in her class at the Royal University of Law and Economics. In the late 1990s, Veasna worked on human rights issues in the UN office in Phnom Penh. From 2001 to 2003, she worked with Fred Lipp and co-founded the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation. Veasna has also consulted for numerous NGOs in Cambodia. For the last two years, she has been working with the Harpswell Foundation and she recently received a masters degree from the School for International Training, based in the US. She is totally committed to helping disadvantaged young people, particularly the next generation of women leaders in Cambodia.

In October 2005, Veasna gave birth to a daughter, Angeline and together with husband Peter, they currently divide their time between Cambodia and Sri Lanka, where they have been assisting with the tsunami response. You can read Veasna's own words on the CASF website here. Her work with the Harpswell Foundation continues. The completion of the dormitory will enable girls selected from the provinces to receive previously unavailable university education and leading that program for change is Veasna Chea. Read about the Harpswell Foundation, founded by Dr Alan Lightman, here.