25th Bluesfest - Cambodian Space Project - Interview #2 - Srey Thy [lead vocals] and Julien Poulson [guitars, vocals] interview with Last Hippie In Byron Bay 9.99 BayFM
Tracks include in order:
* President Richard [Tricky Dicky] Nixon announces 'Cambodian Incursion' April 30, 1970
* Cambodian Space Project - Chnam Oun Dop Pram Mouy [I'm Sixteen]
* Interview part one
* Cambodian Space Project - Rom Chong Vat A Go Go [Dancing A Go Go]
* Interview part two
* Astronomy Class mixtape featuring Srey Thy from Cambodian Space Project
“They’re a great band, the singer is amazing, really beautiful, the guitars really jump out at you, very affecting, great stuff” - Nick Cave
Imagine my surprise when the Cambodian Space Project dedicated their next song to Last Hippie In Byron Bay and in front of a packed Delta Stage encouraged eveyone to tune into BayFM before launching into a trippy rendition of 'The Boat', written as a duet by Srey Thy and Paul Kelly about the refugee boat tragedy on Christmas Island in July 2012.
Lead Singer, Srey Thy was born into war and poverty. Like the great Cambodian diva Ros Sereysothea, Srey Chanthy comes from humble beginnings and moved to Phnom Penh some time ago to find work as a singer. By the time she met Julien Poulson, co-founder of the Cambodian Space Project, she had amassed a great song-book of Cambodian music and was ready to try something new.
Julian Poulson had already made several trip to Cambodia before and had dedicated time to making recordings and short films exploring the traditional music of Cambodia as well as the instruments of the Khmer ensemble but like many from the West, had an ear open for Cambodian Rock and was keen to create music that would fit in a space between what once was and what is occurring today. The Cambodian Space Project’s debut single is Knyom Mun Sok Jet Te "I'm Unsatisfied" by Pan Ron. Pan Ron herself was once upon a time, number two in line to the pop music throne and was considered more ‘edgy’ than Ros Sereysothea the Golden Voice of Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian Space Project is the first band to release a 45rpm single in Cambodia since 1975 - the year Pol Pol implemented the insane Year Zero policy of the Khmer Rouge and trashed all Cambodian culture while inflicting one of the worst genocides in human history.
2011: A Space Odyssey ?(CD, Album, Dig)
2013: Not Easy Rock & Roll ?(LP)
2013: Love Like Honey
Singles & EPs
2010: I'm Unsatisfied ?(7", Pic, EP)
2012: Three Songs For Human Rights
The stratospheric rise of The Cambodian Space Project has caught those witnessing the spectacle of this cosmic cross-culture rock band (CSP) as it blasts across the dusty highways of Cambodia by surprise. In Cambodia, The CSP has landed like an unexpected meteor and has made an immediate impact on enthusiastic local audiences with its festival-like live shows. To date, the CSP has performed in venues ranging from chic city clubs to rural villages, schools and orphanages, even an elephant’s 50th birthday party! For the musicians,
The Cambodian Space Project is a troupe bonded not only by the diversity of its members’ backgrounds but by an artistic vision to bridge cultures while exploring new musical frontiers. In 2007, Australian musician/producer Julien Poulson, travelled to Cambodia on an Asialink artist residency, with the intention to learn about and record traditional Khmer ensembles. Sometime later Poulson met Srey Thy and immediately recognised her talent as a performer - A singer and dancer who grew up in the rice fields and who had never been to school but possessed a unique vocal style and a song book to match.
The band name The Cambodian Space Project was chosen as it not only suggests something highly improbable - A space project occurring in the jungles of Cambodia but also suggests a taste of the CSP’s artistic vision - A cosmic, psychedelic rock band with Hendrix grooves coupled with the hypnotic Khmer dancing and singing traditions, and original music with Srey Thy’s story-telling lyrics about her homeland. The CSP often plays a two-hour live set - expected by rural audiences in Cambodia - mixing 60’s Cambodian Rock with Khmer Surin dance grooves, hints of the blues with French gypsy accordion music, acid rock with reggae. It’s a heady mix but no-one leaves without dancing.
For the past five years Srey Thy has worked as a singer in the Karaoke clubs of Phnom Penh supporting her entire family on her income of less than $100 a month. In a chance encounter, Srey Thy meets Australian music producer Julien Poulson who suggests she try something very different, together they form The Cambodian Space Project. In 2009, Poulson enlisted the help of friends to form a band around Srey Thy with members hailing from Cambodia, France and Australia.
The CSP has recently attracted the attention of award winning film maker Marc Eberle whose documentary based on Srey Thy’s life story, is set for international release through ARTE Germany.
Thy began her career as a young Khmer woman who five years ago moved away from her impoverished village to seek out a better life in Phnom Penh. Srey Thy has always idolized the songs of pre-war times. Singers like Ros Sereysothea and Pan Ron who both tragically disappeared in the Killing Fields. Srey Thy’s story is one that is typical of Khmer village girls, hers is a story of rural migration set against the stark reality of the urban experience that confronts so many young Khmer women drawn from the rice fields of Cambodia to the bright lights of Phnom Penh. Thy was born into poverty and famine around the time the Khmer Rouge was finally driven from power by the invading Vietnamese ‘liberators’; this was also a time when biggest baby boom in the world’s history occurred. Srey Thy’s father, then a tank driver, lives today in the same impoverished village in Prey Veng province, Cambodia’s poorest, where he proudly points to a faded photo hanging from the flimsy wall of the family’s thatched hut. The photo is a black and white image of a handsome young officer in 70’s flares and sunglasses, standing next to a naked baby girl, both are listening attentively to a transistor radio… perhaps even listening to the psychedelic Cambodian Rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Today, Srey Thy is a singer on a mission. As the vocalist for The Cambodian Space Project, Srey Thy has found her voice and her contribution to this exciting cross-culture rock group being lauded in Cambodia and beyond. Thy’s original songs such as Mondulkiri and If you Go , I Come Too have caught the ears of record producer Lindsay Gravina who has joined the project by offering his mixing skills pro bono and has helped the band shape a sound style somewhere between Cambodian Rock and the atmospheric sound of The Velvet Underground.
For Srey Thy, the journey from the rice fields to centre stage has not been easy. Off stage, Srey Thy wants to talk and speaks candidly about her personnel journey. Hers is a journey full of harrowing stories that include being forced into slave labor, of long hours in garment factories, of a time she was kidnapped and almost forced into working in a brothel by being handcuffed to a bed; a situation from which she was lucky to escape, and only after an older girl heard her protest and came to her rescue by helping release her. Sitting at a cafe in Phnom Penh, Srey Thy points to workers on a nearby building site and tells of how she worked as a labourer, carrying bags of cement, she laughs and says: “I am small but I work same, same like men… I work because if I don’t have money, mamma, pappa, young brothers and baby don’t eat…”
In Srey Thy’s village, the old people are waiting up late into the night for the disco to finish; they want to listen to Srey Thy sing. When she begins singing, the old folks tell us she reminds them of Pan Ron – one of the most distinctive singers of pre-war Cambodia. On another visit back home Srey Thy is accompanied by her band, The Cambodian Space Project, surprising the locals who are stunned to see so many ‘barangs’ coming and performing.
The Cambodian Space Project is a dichotomy of the Cambodia Diaspora with a mix of Cambodians, Cambodian American, Cambodian French and a couple of members from Tasmania, Australia. The band brought with it a new generator to donate to the village, its first task however, was powering up a concert for the locals.
During the performance attended by the entire village, Srey Thy Apsara dances in the same fields where she once spent many long hours laboring, while young girls mirror her movements. Meanwhile, The Cambodian Space Project fires up with long instrumental, a droning minor chord groove, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of The Doors. Srey Thy begins singing in Khmer, a storytelling song about the trip back home “…have so many foreigners come to visit, don’t have red wine…have WHISKY CAMBODIA!”
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