Hello there Earth Stringband followers, Sam here reporting on our first full day in vibrant Cambodia.
We woke up this morning in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, a city that seems to embody the “anything-goes” nature of the Khmer people. It is not uncommon here to see 4 or 5 people crammed onto a motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic, and apparently it’s not illegal either, provided the driver is wearing a helmet. Our first and only official concert here in Cambodia was at a busy Café right along the mighty Mekong river called the Blue Pumpkin. The show was a blast and the audience, a healthy mixture of Khmer locals and American and European ex-pats, seemed to really enjoy the Stringband energy. The folks from the Blue Pumpkin treated us to a delicious lunch and some of the best coconut ice cream any of us will ever enjoy here on earth. It is safe to say that the boys will be back for some more before we leave the city!
After lunch and a brief respite back at the hotel we headed out with Craig Gerard, one of the Public Affairs officers from the embassy (and a pretty darn good guitar player, I should add), to do a workshop at the Music Arts School in Phnom Penh. Although at first the audience seemed a little reserved but once we raged a few quick Oldtime tunes they opened up and it became clear that we were going to have an amazing musical exchange. There were kids of all ages there ranging from babies to 25 years-olds and although not everyone had an instrument it was clear that everyone had a deep appreciation for music. The 7-month-old son of Drew the school director was mesmerized by the bass, and apparently for the first time in his young life he started clapping along with the music (what a special moment!). We taught about the history of Bluegrass music and its influences and also about the roles of the instruments within the band. It was a blast seeing 30 smiling Cambodians stomping along with the bass, clapping with the mandolin, and beating on their chests along with the fiddle. Toward the end of the workshop Drew and Andy the two ex-pat directors of the school invited a group of the more advanced musicians to perform some traditional tunes for us. The Khmer melodies were beautifully haunting and everyone was completely enthralled by the music. The second tune that they played for us was a traditional Khmer song that was so similar to “you are my sunshine” that all the boys simply had to join in. This opened the door to a really incredible impromptu jam with the Earth Stringband boys learning a few Khmer tunes and teaching a few American tunes (angeline the baker, and boil ’em cabbage down) with everyone who didn’t have an instrument singing along and getting into the groove.
Although we love playing concerts, some of the most profound experiences we have had on this trip have been in workshop settings where we can really get to know people and share our music with them while also learning a lot ourselves. It is always amazing to communicate with someone who does not speak the same language on a purely musical level, and there is an immediate connection that is made that cannot be made with any other sort of dialect. I feel like I have made a lot of good friends here in Cambodia and I can’t even speak the language beyond sues dei (hello) and aw kuhn (thank you)! We are looking forward to the rest of our adventures here in Cambodia but for now I’ve got to catch some z’s for a long, music-filled day tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!