Cambodian rock — before the Khmer Rouge destroyed it

cambodian pop albums

In the 60s and 70, Cambodia had a thriving, free-wheeling rock scene. Then along came the Khmer Rouge. Filmmaker John Pirozzi hunted down the surviving members of that scene and created a terrific documentary about it.

It's called "Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll," and is currently touring around the US; check the schedule here to see if it's playing in your city, and when. The soundtrack is obtainable here.

Cambodia had surf-rock, psychedelia and hard rock, with Drakkar (pictured below, in middle age now) being an example of that latter genre. Pirozzi hunted down as many of the living musicians as he could, and — as the New York Times reports — he discovered some harrowing stories:


Among those they found was Sieng Vanthy, a young singer in the 1970s who is seen in clips dressed like Cher and dancing like a wild Grace Slick. In one of the film's most heartbreaking interviews, Ms. Sieng Vanthy — her face frozen by a stroke — says she survived an encounter with Khmer Rouge soldiers only by telling them she was a banana seller, not a singer. She died in 2009.

"The Khmer Rouge understood the value of the artists and their connection to the larger public," Mr. Pirozzi said. "They're the voice of the people. You can't control them, so you eliminate them."

Touch Seang Tana, of Drakkar, has another chilling survival story. In a Skype interview from Cambodia, where he is a scientist, he recalled being summoned by a soldier at a prison camp who had a guitar. "Do you know any imperialist songs?" the soldier asked him. Terrified, he played Santana's hit "Oye Como Va" and briefly earned that man's favor before a group of hardened new soldiers arrived.

"They started to kill people," Mr. Touch Seang Tana said. "Me, I was almost killed many times. Luckily, I escaped."

That terrific picture of the now-middle-aged Drakkar is by Hannah Reyes in the New York Times.