US group Dengue Fever were a total assault on the senses at this years Womadelaide. Firstly it’s their revival and celebration of 60’s and 70’s Cambodian psychedelic rock, then it’s the way they look. They’re like the X-Men of music, each member is a super hero with special powers.
At the time Fragmented Frequencies wrote: “They’re the ultimate eye candy. I defy you to tear your eyes from the gorgeous five foot nothing lead singer Chhom Nimol, squeezed into a tight pink skirt who obtained these impossibly high pitches with her vocals. The guitarist looked like ZZ Top’s early years, the bass player is a giant, the sax player and the drummer both just stole the booze from a Tom Waits session and the keyboardist looks like a down on his luck pawn shop dealer. They’re a cartoon, with kitsch choreographed stage moves and it all seems like a gimmick, except their music, psychedelic Cambodian pop from the 60’s was incredible, They drew upon their last album Venus on Earth (Real World/Planet Company) and in particular their trans global duet Tiger Phone Card went down a treat. It was Kenny and Dolly for the cool kids, though you couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable after noticing a raincoat brigade congregating in front of Chhom.”
Sleepwalking Through The Meekong (M80/ Planet Company) is a film that peels beneath the veneer, that adds a few additional dimensions to the band. Part travelogue, part rock bio, it documents their tour to Cambodia in 2005. For Nimol, who was already apparently a successful karaoke singer before moving to the US, it’s a homecoming and for the others you can sense the tension as they’re not quite sure what the Cambodians will make of Americans plundering their heritage. Through interviews with all members, gigs in sleazy dives, visits to music schools and a large open air festival you see music used as a form of cultural exchange. The Cambodian’s are amused and seem genuinely touched by these crazy Americans. And then you understand why. The music is in danger of being forgotten, as it comes from an era that was totally extinguished in the Killing Fields of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, where one and a half million people, mostly professionals, musicians and artists were slaughtered, and music (aside from state sponsored) was outlawed. There are some harrowing tales here and the music comes across as a way of healing some of these wounds. Dengue Fever jam with a bunch of kids learning traditional music, also Cambodian traditional and pop musicians and the film and the accompanying soundtrack are amazing affirming documents The great thing is that much of Dengue Fever’s repatoire is these old songs that everyone knows, so it’s pretty easy to get a singalong. Sleepwalking Through The Meekong features the film with a bunch of special features, also the soundtrack which blends field recordings, street musicians with Dengue Fever, with a particularly impressive version of Ethiopian legend Mulatu Astatke’s Ethanopium.
It’s album number 4 for Malian seven piece Tinariwen (Shock), and on Imidiwan Companion we’re seeing a refinement of their unique and beautiful sound. Such is this incredible Toureg ensemble’s popularity that they’ve played with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Tuung in the last few years, even landing in Melbourne earlier this year, seducing audiences with their hypnotic webs of guitar, hand drums and evocative call and response vocals. If you want desert rock, if you want to know where the blues came from, it’s all right here. It feels incredibly immediate, once the repetative riffing begins all you can see are sweeping vistas of sand. Whilst the earthy groove underlies all their tunes, ocassionally here they strip it right back to bass and percussion, amping up the funk, playing a little more with dynamics. They also do this gentle stripped back fireside groove, that when the group vocals comes in the hair stands up on the back of your neck. There seems to be a little more spoken word here than previously, kind’ve gruff and throaty, but really if you’re a fan of any of their previous releases you’re not going to be disappointed here.