Compilations Showcase Talents of Cambodian, Thai Popsters

LEO Weekly | October 14, 2005
Groovy Sounds From the Land of Smile! Thai Beat A Go-Go Vol. 3 (Subliminal Sounds)

All Psyched Up

Cambodia Rocks Vol. 3 (Khmer Rocks)

The third and final volume of Cambodia Rocks draws extensively from the catalogs of Sinn Sisamouth and Pan Ron, two of the country’s most prolific pop stars. Sisamouth, who is believed to have died during the Khmer Rouge regime, wrote and recorded something like 2,000 songs during his brief career. Unfortunately, the backing musicians remain anonymous. ?

Western influences abound, from surf guitars and go-go drum fills to bubblegum melodies, but the talent of the singers is undeniable.

Rather than cover Western pop songs, Cambodian artists would frequently recycle the melodies but write entirely new lyrics. Translations of the Cambodian lyrics are provided, and an informative essay by project director Krisna Rithasakvejith rounds out the package.

Thai Beat A Go-Go, like its Cambodian neighbor, provides little information on the respective artists. The music is funkier, all wacka-chicka guitars and disco drums, and many of the songs are presented in English. The lead-off track, “Thai Boxing,” insists “This is the art of boxing you would all love to learn ooh wah.”??Ooh wah, indeed.??

Teen sensation Supraphorn delivers the serious goods with a pretty straight rendition of the McCoys’ hit “Hang on Sloopy” and a vaguely Caribbean sounding drop-beat cover of the Troggs’ “With a Girl Like You.”??Even Sakarin Boonpit, “the most Thai of all Elvises,” is given his due by the inclusion of “Pee Lah,” otherwise known as “Heartbreak Hotel.” Personally, I’d much rather hear a lounge singer cover a lounge song. Imagine a Thai-language version of “Don’t Cry Daddy.” I’m thankful now that my brain didn’t have to process that much cheese in one sitting. I could have gone blind.??

The presence of Americans in Southeast Asia certainly had a significant impact. Even to the point of influencing popular music. That is indisputable. I’d like to make some kind of cogent socio-historic explication, but the fact of the matter is, one song on the Thai Beat collection put me on the floor. In 1974, English reggae devotee Johnny Wakelin recorded a tribute to Muhammad Ali called “The Black Superman.” Not long thereafter, Duangdao Mondara & Chailai recorded a Thai language version of the song. Thank the universe for smiling on me and granting me a small favor: that song is included here. The fact that an unknown group in a non-Western country would hear an obscure bubblegum novelty song by an English fan of Jamaican music about a sports icon from my hometown proved to be too much for my caffeine-juiced synapses and my brain locked up.

Let it be said that I’m not terribly fond of the “My-Record-Collection-Is-Stranger-Than-Yours” game that delighted so many of my friends. I do, however, dearly love a good rousing game of “Steiger, What the Fuck is That?” (patent pending). These discs are like holding five aces.


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