A bus rammed full of musical minds from across the globe hits Cambodia’s roads this month to explore the links between American and Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll, culminating in an exciting creative collaboration. Editor Marissa Carruthers finds out more.
When Cambodian Space Project (CSP) put out an appeal for creatives to jump on board the Boogaloo Bus to join them on a magical mystery tour into the unknown, checking at a string of Cambodia’s art and cultural hubs along the way, the response attracted the out-of-the-box creativity they were seeking.
“We’re certainly filling up seat space with a very creative team, and have had some interesting offers,” says CSP co-founder Julien Poulson of the band’s latest collaborative project, Motown to the Mekong. As well as filmmakers, musicians, dancers, photographers and visual artists from Shanghai, clowns, an artist who uses pancakes as their canvas and a transcendental mediator also put themselves forward for a ticket on the bus.
Throw into the mix Australian author, Clinton Walker, who is exploring the story of Cambodia’s lost rock ‘n’ roll and its potential connections with music of the Vietnam War-era entertainers, and the expertise of legendary Detroit producer Jim Diamond, of The White Stripes and The Dirt Bombs, and the result of this melding of musical minds look set to be explosive.
The 14-day adventure takes in a range of workshops throughout Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang, including a series of meet the producer sessions with Diamond offering insight into writing and marketing material for international audiences, performances, studio sessions and matinee shows in the Cambodian countryside. The project, which is backed by the US Embassy, has the ultimate aim of inspiring enough creativity to pen and produce an album of work at one of their final stop-offs, Temple Town’s dedicated recording studio, 60 Road.
The common theme along the way is the music, which will draw on Motown classics as well as American popular songs of the 1960s and 1970s, and Cambodian songs influenced by the American songbook. “We want to create music reflective of a particular chapter in Cambodia’s culture history,” says Poulsen, adding material collected during the journey will also be used in a CSP tour film and for a new musical theatre production the band is working on.
“I don’t know what the outcome will be, but that’s part of the beauty,” adds Walker, who has penned the biographies of icons such as AC/DC’s Bon Scott. “It’s exciting to see what direction it will take as there is a combination of different skills, and music is a collective activity, which comes from having good chemistry.”
Having met through their shared love of Southeast Asian music from the 1960s and 1970s at one of CSP’s gigs in Australia, Poulsen and Walker hit it off, pledging to work together on an ‘unusual’ project in the future. “I’ve always been interested in things coming out of nowhere, so this seemed perfect,” says Walker. “This is my first time in Cambodia so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Diamond is another musical treasure who will be adding to the agenda. As the man behind the signature Detroit sound and owner of the US city’s world-famous Ghetto Recorders, Diamond has brought a fresh approach to the recording process by turning back in time. Today, the studio’s collection of vintage gear and analog recording equipment entices and garners respect from bands from across the world.
Diamond met CSP in 2013 in Detroit and their similar interests saw them click, with him producing ‘Electric Blue Boogaloo’ in 2014 and joining the band on tour as bassist.
“A friend gave me a cassette in the 1990s recorded in Cambodia of rock ‘n’ roll,” Diamond recalls of his first introduction to the music. “I listened to it and thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’. There was this crazy fuzz guitar; it was out of this world. I’ve been listening to rock ‘n’ roll since I was four so I am excited to bring the sounds from my part of the world and merge them with the Cambodian genre of music.”
As popularity across the globe grows for the sounds and songs of Cambodia’s Golden Era, within the country there is a growing hunger among the younger generation to find out more about the American music that inspired the lively movement, planting the seed for the Motown to Mekong Project.
“This is a trip back in time to rediscover and explore the American songbook and how that music, particularly the sounds of Motown, met and merged with the sounds of music along the Mekong,” says Poulsen. “We’re looking at either covering or writing new songs that best illustrate the magic of West meets East in rock ‘n’ roll.”
The first event takes place on May 7 in Battambang with a wrap party planned at Otres Market on May 30. For full details on where the bus tour is stopping off, visit Motown to the Mekong on Facebook.