At least I think it was day 6. We’re moving so fast now that I barely have enough time to blog…but I absolutely HAVE to document our Saturday night in Siem Reap…easily one of the most fun nights in my thirty-some-odd years.
John had been talking up the possibility of my performing in Cambodia (stressing a dearth of live music) since we told him we were coming. And sure enough, during a trip to his old stomping grounds of Siem Reap, I got my chance.
All the elements transpired to make it happen, thanks to much “working it” on John’s part. His married musician friends, Jet and Melanie, brought up guitars (they each did a set as well). John’s friend Renaud, who owns a magnificent bar/grill in town, the Abacus Cafe, gave us a slot on Saturday night.
And then there were the African musicians and acrobats.
See, there’s this school of acrobats from Guniea touring in Cambodia. And Renaud had invited them to perform at Abacus’s outdoor spaces the night before. They came with their own band–mostly drummers, singers, one guitarist and one xylophone player. We attended that Friday night show of acrobatics and dance, culminating with the band playing and folks dancing ’til the morning. Enormous fun. And he invited the musicians to come back the following night. Would we play with them? Could we? With no rehearsal, no less? Um, shyea!
Natacha and I showed up to soundcheck, and met Jet there to discuss logistics with Renaud. Renaumd supplied the PA (left over from last night’s circus), Jet brought the guitars (shlepped up from Phnom Penh by Melanie). And the Centre d’Art Acrobatique musicians showed up. Turns out the only euroish language they spoke was French. But Jet and I and their bandleader/xylophone player, Baba set up in a corner to figure out how in the world we were going to make this work. We got together in a little bandstand in the corner and worked it out. I discovered that Baba’s best key was G, which is pretty much my favorite guitar key, and it was on. Jet and I altered our sets to include songs that would help showcase the band’s talents.
I dragged Natacha over to translate (which she gladly did) and work out the plan. I asked Baba if it would be okay if Jet/Melanie/I did a few songs ourselves, then invited the band up for each set? Baba gave an easy nod and replied, “All musicians come from the same mother and father.” Which touched me so much I almost teared up. Seriously.
I did my set first, doing the various covers I do when I don’t have rehearsal time (“Centerfold,” “Surrender,” “Tainted Love”). Enthusiastic, polite applause from a mostly-french-expat audience who had never heard most of these songs before. I’ve had worse audiences.
Then I invited the musicians up, adding two songs in G which I could do with more of a world beat. Go time.
I sounded out the first beat: “Bom-Bom-Bom-Bom. PAK! Bom-Bom-Bom-Bom. PAK! ” The band picked it up immediately and put some extra spin on it. And I launched into “Oh, Dear,” A song I wrote back in college and still one of my favorite compositions. A little pop song with a quirky latin beat. Perfect.
And it was like I’d accellerated into another dimension, one that was bright and clear and powerful and full of the kind of energy I hadn’t felt what seems like years. The band was as on as on gets. I left space for Baba to solo, which he did with fluid excellence. I gave the singers some room sing, the dancers room to move, and I felt like I was in a Youssou N’Dour video.
The sheer alchemy of the evening was unexpected and incredibly joyous, showcasing me and my little song as if I was David Freaking Byrne doing Once In a Lifetime.
I did one more song with the band, “Walk on the Wild Side,” Which was every bit as jamming as the first song. I’ll put up some video once I’m back using big American bandwidth. And I appeared a couple of times later in the evening, jamming with Jet during his set, and later jamming with the musicians, just filling out their songs with licks for another hour or so. Which I loved.
At 17, I traveled through Europe with two friends, busking in the streets, and we landed a gig at a bar in Amsterdam, playing for some Dutch and a bunch of Brits having a bachelor party. we played for 3 hours, I broke 10 strings, and at one point jumped up so high to do a pete townsend move that I hit a ceiling light. I hi That was the greatest night of my life up to that point, and this night in Siem Reap was on a par with that. No question.
John managed to record some of “Oh Dear.” on his phone. It’s mostly me jamming on the tail end of the songs with the African musicians and it’s not the highest quality, but holy crap there it is. A cherished moment in my life as quicktime file.
Kudos and thanks to my new brothers and sisters at Centre d’Art Acrobatique Keita Fodeba / Tinafan, who made this evening the incredible blowout that it was. Thanks to Jet and Melanie, without whom there would have been no guitars (awesome SG Mel!) And of course props to Renaud for allowing the whole blissful experiement to happen. And to Natch for translating and supporting as is her wonderful way. But most of my gratitude goes to my longtime buddy and almost-as-long-Cambodia-resident John Weeks, without whom none of it would have taken place.