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DISCOVER THESE MUSICAL POLYGLOT
BAND OF MUSIC INVENTORS

 

REMEMBERING A TIME where musicians got together to create great music, that often combined eclectic genres and cultures; Dengue Fever was created in 2001. This cross-cultural and multi-racial concoction of inquiring souls have resulted in a Cambodian version of Grace Slick/Stevie Nicks-type singer fronting a band that consisted of a renegade from ZZ Top, a Michael Hutchence reincarnated, Bootsy Collins-like bass player, Dave Garibaldi-type drummer and a Randy Brecker-style woodwind player. If Jefferson Airplane had played with Cambodian rock icons such as Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Sereysothea and/or Pan Ron – instead of The Doors, Ten Years After, Fairport Convention, Richie Havens and Crosby Stills Nash and Young – they might have sounded like Dengue Fever. Their version of colliding late sixties Ethiopian jazz intermingled with Cambodian psychedelia highlighted by the Joan Baez’s type of acrobatic vocals have left many audiences in awe of their party music.

Documentary Trailer
THEIR ORGANIC VISUALS (instead of the many pre-planned show of most of today’s artists) of lead singer Chhom Nimol dancing and singing in what appeared to be a too-tight bridal gown next to a Larry Graham-type bass player grooving with a ZZ Top guitarist with tonal colors provided by a Ray Manzarek-type keyboard Farfisa/Fender Pre-CBS Rhodes are a natural extension of their music motivating audiences to party to music where they don’t know what is being sung – especially if the guys are wearing full silken Cambodian regalia to match their Cambodian goddess.

THEIR STORY of a non-English-speaking Cambodian national named Chhom Nimol coming to the United States, the Holtzman brothers (Ethan & Zac) going to countless clubs in Long Beach’s Little Phnom Penh to meet their idea of a vocalist to sing the songs from Sim Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea they heard in Southeast Asiain 1997-1998, writing songs that reflects the convergence of multiple genres, the process of Chhom Nimol learning to sing in English (along with the band learning Khymer) and the harrowing experience of Chhom Nimol’s “visitor’s visa episode” are stuff that great movies such as Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” is based on,

THE CAMBODIAN ROCK INFLUENCES of Dengue Fever was based on music that was heard in the 1960s when the American Forces Radio stations in Vietnam were beaming out a mix of rock and soul music that made an immediate impact on the popular music of next-door Cambodia. Artists began blending American rhythms and instruments with their own traditional music, giving birth to a hybrid that had Khmer society reeling and rocking, some with joy, others with shocked disbelief. The vanguard music scene boasted as much sheer invention, verve and breakthrough technology as anyting in the United States at the time. Unfortunately it was nipped in the bud by the war in neighboring Vietnam and the Cambodian civil wars that took place in the early 1970s.

Zac Holtzman: I never got into the "boy band" thing. I grew up listening to Devo, the Beach Boys (I guess they could be a "boy band"), the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and what ever else came my way. We camped out a lot growing up, and would always bring instruments and sing murder ballads and rail road songs around the fire. I lived in SF (San Francisco) for ten years and my friend Byram worked at Aquarius Records. He was always recommending good stuff. The Cambodian music he suggested was one of many great albums.
David Ralicke: It is my view that music emanates from ones heart and to really play something well one must first deeply desire to do it.
Senon Williams: We wanted our music to take us away...away to space or the deepest ocean where bio-luminescent creatures live, we wanted to make something pretty and familiar but unrecognisable. We wanted to do something fun that strikes our peers as something fresh and simple. We are not historians or purists, we are musicians who are having fun
DENGUE FEVER HAS BEEN DESCRIBED as “more a deconstructionist commentary on the globalization of cultural commerce.” As a musical polyglot that merges, mixes, cross-pollinates, interchanges, mingles, superimposes and creates sonic textures – the group pleasantly surprises people with its recordings and performances. The creative "imaginations" brings back memories of diverse groups ranging from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Frank Zapp’s Mothers of Invention to Was Not Was to A.R. Rahman that brings unexpected magic to ears that seek much more than the common (albeit) popular music of the day.

DENGUE FEVER CONSISTS of the Goddess from Cambodia (Chhom Nimol), saxophonist David Ralicke (Beck), guitarist Zac Holtzman (Dieselhed), bassist Senon Williams (Radar Brothers), farfisa organist Ethan Holtzman, and drummer Paul Smith. This band of creative gypsies have been acknowledged in many ways. In Matt Dillon's City of Ghost, in his attempt to evoke a traveler's experience of Southeast Asia far beyond most fictional films, he had the group provide a great Khmer version of Jonie Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and the Pen Ran/Sin Sisamouth duet "Mou Pei Na." That the band's music stood up against the other classic Cambodian rock icons on the film's CD (via songs such as Wait Ten Months, Have You Seen My Love, I'm Sixteen, Chan Chaya's Sak Kra Va, Choun Malai's Love Pillow, etc.) is a testament to Dengue Fever's musicality.

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.

Ethan Holtzman: Trust was a big issue for the birth of Dengue Fever. At the beginning Nimol and her sister Chorvin were very distrustful of us. They did not speak any English and the idea of playing music with us seemed suspicious. What did we really want? My brother had a three foot beard at the time, and my moustache was thin and greasy. We must have visited the Dragon House, where Nimol used to work, six or seven times before she finally agreed to come practice with us. When she finally came to the studio to sing with us, from the first note she sang, we all felt a powerful connection.

THE GROUP WAS THE FOCAL POINT of the documentary "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong" (that was shot in ten days) that confirms that music can indeed bridge cultures, a point that seems to have a greater significance during the present President Obama administration. Director John Pirozzi's 75-minute film served as a vivid reminder to take nothing for granted. The documentary is filled with varius interactions with Khmer master musicians and school children - highlighted by an open-air finale in a shantytown. In addition, the band performed songs made famous by Khmer pop icons Ros Seray Sothea and Sinn Sisamouth, both of whom vanished during the Pol Pot era. The movie's hope is to bring back its music to the people that it was taken from by Pol Pot's reign of "The Killing Fields" era in 1975 that murdered approximately 1.5 million people while forcing many of its people to flee after 1980 to places such as Long Beach's Little Phen Penh. Their efforts are seen when they visit schools dedicated to keeping alive the art of playing certain exotic Cambodian instruments for which only a handful of masters survived the Khmer Rouge killing fields and writing new songs in Khmer (Cambodian) with a tuktuk driver. The director's background (as stated on the film's website) include making music videos for (in addition to Dengue Fever) Queens of the Stone Age, Calexico, Victoria Williams, Vic Chessnut, Earthlings and the Japanese Metal band Outrage. As a Cinematographer he has numerous documentary credits including Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man which premiered in Sundance last year, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession with a premier in Canne, Too Tough To Die: A Tribute to Johnny Ramone, Speed Racer :The Story of Vic Chesnutt and the forthcoming Bling A Planet Rock which explores the Diamond Wars of West Africa. John's Cinematography credits also include the feature films Broken English by Zoe Cassavetes, Matt Dillon's City of Ghost for which he was the 2nd unit Cinematographer and Kimberley Pierce's Boys Don't Cry for which he shot the distinctive time lapse photography.

Paul Smith: What took place on April 17th, 1975 was an atrocity. The attempt to control the masses like that, for reasons like theirs, is the darkest part of mankind. The specificity of targeting people more likely to be free thinkers like artists, doctors, educators, and so on...is even more saddening. The issues that we face as a band, I believe to be mostly positive, though. For people who were around before and during this dark period it can be very cathartic to hear those songs again. When we were in Cambodia, this was something we were told several times and it was very touching for all of us.
Thirty years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge revolutionary peasant army, the horrors of their brutal, murderous rule still stain the fabric of this impoverished Southeast Asian kingdom. On the outskirts of Phnom Penh, near the Choeung Ek Genocidal Museum, the evidence of mass murder is easily found. Just scraping the surface of communal graves turns up bone fragments, teeth and clothing worn by those put to death by the Khmer Rouge. Seeking to create a utopian society, the Khmer Rouge abolished private property and money and emptied the cities by driving the urban population at gunpoint into the countryside to live in ommunal camps.

The genocidal experiment began on April 17, 1975, and wreaked havoc for nearly five years. An invasion by the Vietnamese army early in 1979 ended the group's reign, but not before an estimated 1.7 million or more Cambodians had died from violence, starvation or overwork. The Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla war for two more decades, but its abuses have largely gone unpunished since fighting stopped in 1998. (link)

One has to agree wth Metallica's Kirk Hammett that his choice of Dengue Fever's "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula" is a great song. Their tunes ranging from tip My Canoe, Hummingbird, March of the Balloon Animals, Sober Driver, Tiger Phone Card, Seeing Hands, Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, Ethanophium instrumental, Monsoon of Perfurm takes the listeners to many lands that are not often visited.

Within their inherent search of seeking to create sonic landscapes, they have thankfully gone 180 degrees away from the normal formula-laden formats and beats that inhabits most of the music that is heard within most radio stations. Starting from an original premise of merging diverse genres into great music, instead of embracing the latest music trends or the current "America Idol" syndrome - it might frighten people with its adventurious ambitions.

Maybe fans of the music of the 1960's can share the passion and creative drives that was integrated within the wildly diverse and eclectic styles that was heard on one bill at the famous Whiskey night club. If one can understand and embrace creative search to create great music - one can thoroughly the journey that Dengue Fever is taking its visitors while joining Kirk Hammett and Peter Gabriel as its fans.

ANOTHER OF THEIR HIGHLIGHTS is performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Grace Jones and Of Montreal, truly a night of adventure and wildly unexpected surprises awaiting around every moment of KCRW's World Festival night. To be invited to perform on a bill featuring the reclusive and legendary diva name Grace Jones (along with Of Montreal - one inspiration of Dengue Fever) is the latest evidence of the reputation that Dengue Fever has obtained with KCRW and the Hollywood Bowl.

THEIR OTHER 2009 SUCCESS included the band make their live debut throughout the world (Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Luxemborg and Turkey), wrote and performed to standing ovations a new soundtrack for the 1925 silent film class The Lost World, New Year Eve concert at The Mint, released a DVD/CD soundtrack for the above-mentioned Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, DFest (where the Black Crowes, Ozomatli/another adventurious band and Cake were part of the bill), played at London's Scala, Metallica's Kirk Hammett named their song "One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula" his 2nd favorite song of the 2000s in Rolling Stone's Best of the Decade poll, performed at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco (where they provided a great performance where Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, M.I.A. and Beastie Boys were part of the bill) and collaborated with Inara George (The Bird and The Bee) on a 21st century take of the disco classic "I Feel Love."

THEIR PRESENT 2010 PLANS include a West Coast tour in support of the January 10th release of Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia (Minky Records) that is a compilation of fourteen of the band member's favorite classic tracks, from artists such as Sinn Sisamouth, Pan Ron, Ros Sereysothea and Dara Chorn Chan. They will be forforming at Austin's South by Southwest, the Bergenfest in Norway and other European and Asian dates.

WITH THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEWS with the members of the band, we will discover that there is even more evocative and seductive musical backdrops that forms the creative foundation behind Dengue Fever.

Click HERE to Read the Interview with Chhom Nimol

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
Bowers & Wilkins MySpace Home Facebook Documentary YouTube Channel

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