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Interview with Dengue Fever Chhom Nimol
The Cambodian Princess from Battambang/Phratabong

 

US Asians: Considering your desire to make more money to send back home, making commercially viable music in Khymer and singing in Long Beach’s Cambodian banquet clubs (after arriving in the U.S. with your brother to perform at a New Year’s celebration and visiting your sister) - what got your attention after your initial impression of being surprised when five American guys (guy with a crazy beard, 7 feet tall Black guy and a guy with a “creepy porn-star mustache”) who had no prior connection to Cambodian culture had a strong desire to do Cambodian pop music approached you at “The Dragon House” about joining Dengue Fever, after receiving their CD of their Cambodian tunes from the 1960s that they were learning and hearing them hummed a few bars of one of their songs – along with what prompted a well-known karaoke singer in Cambodia to join them (since you quickly said yes – though it took several phone calls to get a confirmed commitment)?

Chhom Nimol
Chhom Nimol: At first I didn't quite fully understand the guys' intentions, I was a bit afraid. I brought a fellow friend along to help me interpret. Their mellow and down to earth approach made me comfortable about learning more about their ideas. At first I was confused about the plan - why would these Americans be interested in playing Khmer music? It was a crazy idea, I thought it's worth a shot.

US Asians: How was the trust developed between yourself and the band (recognizing that at the time, your ability to communicate in English was very limited) – acknowledging that your entourage (Cambodian friends/relatives) came with you to the band’s initial meetings/rehearsals with the band to learn of the band’s true intentions, the lyrics/music of their original songs they proposed to translate (acknowledging that your parents were wedding singers, considering your family members included several renowned singers from the 1970s that remembered the pioneers of the Cambodian rock scene of the 1960s, your history of being a well-known karaoke singer in Cambodia, singing for the King and Queen of Cambodia and after winning a televised contest in the early 1990s) – and after the band’s first performances that thrilled Cambodian and American audiences?

Chhom Nimol: I'm very fortunate I was surrounded with people who were able to provide me actual interpretation of the band's intention. From any woman's perspective it was hard to trust four guys (Zac, Ethan, Senon, and Paul) approaching with a bizarre idea. The songs they proposed were classic Khmer rock, I thought it would be a challenging project. I'd sung some of the songs before, but not the way the band wanted to play.

Live Performance of "Sober Driver"
Performance provides a eclectic pop styling that many American audiences are drawn to. With an English-speaking context, it draws upon classic Cambodian pop traditions that existed during the 1960's and was hear over the Armed Services radio stations throughout Southeast Asia.
I don't recall if my parents ever sang at weddings; most of their performances were done for Cambodian plays. My older sister (Chorvin Chhom) and brother (Bunyong Chhom) inspired me to sing in the contest for the King and Queen of Cambodia in the 1990's. Chorvin made her markings as a singer in Cambodia in the 1980's. When I was in Cambodia, I never thought I was a karaoke singer, I thought I was just a singer. In the U.S. the biggest market for Khmer music was sold as karaoke discs.

The guys' patience shows in our performances. Their hard work in adjusting with my limited ability to English amazes both Cambodian and American listeners.

US Asians: What were your and your family’s thoughts of your reconnecting with your Cambodian fan base, especially considering since many of the stars of Cambodian popular music were killed or disappeared during the rule of the Khmer Rouge that you honored when you light a candle onstage to honor those killed by the Khmer Rouge?

Chhom Nimol: My family encouraged me to try it out, since Cambodian rock seems to be fading away in the outside world after the original stars are gone. Recently artists in Cambodia are inspired to bring Khmer rock back to the country. I am always grateful that I'm able to bring these classic songs to the modern world and to honor these great artists since they were the true pioneers.

Chhom Nimol

US Asians: How did the Cambodian communities (older and younger) feel about your participation in Dengue Fever - considering their opinions about attire, dancing, recreating music that reminds people of a time/land that doesn’t exist anymore (culture of pre-"Year Zero" bourgeois Cambodia), reinvention of a “mongrel music that is itself a reinvention of a mongrel music from the West?”

Chhom Nimol: I have had nothing but positive compliments from the Cambodian communities. Since some of the songs are classics, the older listeners are more familiar and reminds them of happier times when they were teenagers. For the younger listeners, they enjoy the modern flavor added, and gives them a sense of hope.

US Asians: Could you share how prominent Cambodian American artists (such as Prach Ly - whom interviewer has had on public access television discussing the effects of The Killer Fields and his success as a rapper in Cambodia) and Jack Ong – Executive Director of the Dr. Haing Ngor Foundation have played a part of your personal and creative lives?

Chhom Nimol: I did not get to see the interview made by Prach Ly, but I know he is a talented artist. In the mid 1970's it was an emotional time for all Cambodians, a mixture of this feeling, the fans and the drive of my bandmates is my biggest influence.

Click HERE to Read the Interviews with Ethan and Zac Holtzman

Read the Interviews and Purchase Their Music by Clicking on the Graphics Below
Chhom Nimol
Ethan Holtzman
Zac Holtzman
Sean Williams
David Railke
Paul Smith
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