Cambodian cassettes, Saigon rock

A year or so back, probably two years, Lisa and I went to Wax N Facts for a record store day [ed. written before pandemic isolation, how quaint?]. These visits are always discursive and you don’t know where you’ll end so that day I ended at the international/world music section looking for… not sure what. And (dun dun DUN) I found it in spades.

You’re never prepared for the completely unexpected album title Cambodian Cassette Archives, Khmer Folk and Pop Music, Vol 1, but then there it is. Maybe it’s the “Vol 1” part that captivated me since I’m such a completist collector? And the graphics on the cover were so DIY fabulous that it was like I was in college again (if I went to college in the 70s (I did not)). I had no idea what to expect.

Pic from one of my Friday night Album and Coctail Parties (for two).

I’m not sure why I picked Cambodian music over, say, Nigerian or Turkic. I had no love of Cambodian music beforehand. Some of the fascination is for the unique of-its-time music and music as time capsule, and some is for the Eastern reworking of American 70s/80s music in a way that is more refreshing than the original. Cultures are at their best–or at least at their most humanly surprising–when they cross-pollinate. Hip hop and rock. Japanese prints and early Impressionism. Penny dreadfuls become Giallo becomes slasher.

I wish I could post the liner notes for Cassette Archives here. “The collection was culled from over 150 ravaged cassettes found in Oakland, California at the Asian branch of the Public Library during the late 1990s and early 2000s.” It goes on to describe the unfortunate history of the times when the Khmer Rouge (i.e. the CPK, 1975-1993) drove out intellectuals and artists. They took refuge in surrounding countries and eventually the US. The recordings were artifacts of the art they created in the diaspora to keep their music traditions alive. I’m not going to pretend to absorb all of Cambodian music history, but what’s I’ve read so far is fascinating.

No long after that first purchase I picked up Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia to expand my collection–I think also at Wax N Facts.

Pink vinyl for “Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia”