L.A.'s acclaimed Cambodian rock band Dengue Fever to perform in Phnom Penh

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via CAAI News Media

April 15
Manhattan Local Music Examiner
Jim Bessman

Dengue Fever
Kevin Estrada

Dengue Fever, the acclaimed Los Angeles-based blend of garage rock and the Cambodian rock variant that it spawned in the 1960s--the lost Khmer Rock that was rooted out by the Khmer Rouge--will perform a free concert in Phnom Penh on May 13 in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cambodia.

The extraordinary event, which is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, is part of an international tour also including stops in Scandinavia, Germany, Turkey, China, and Vietnam--where two dates in Ho Chi Minh City have been added. It will be held at the Cambodian Vietnamese Friendship Park, and preceded on May 10 by a screening at the Meta House of Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, a documentary of Dengue Fever's first trip to Cambodia in 2006 as the first band to perform Khmer Rock since the fall of the Khmer Rouge--to be followed by a panel discussion.

Additionally, the band will perform a benefit concert in Phnom Penh on May 11 in support of Cambodian Living Arts--an organization supporting the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts.

“The U.S. Embassy is thrilled to be able to host Dengue Fever,” said Carol A. Rodley, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia. “I cannot think of a better way to kick off this celebration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cambodia than to have an acclaimed American band performing music influenced by some of the great Cambodian artists of the 1960s. Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Pan Ron and many other artists perished more than 30 years ago under the Khmer Rouge, but their musical legacy lives on to inspire and delight new generations of listeners, not just in Cambodia but around the world.”

Dengue Fever is captivating Cambodian songstress Chhom Nimol, guitarist-vocalist Zac Holtzman, his brother Ethan Holtzman on keyboards, bassist Senon Williams, drummer Paul Smith and horn player David Ralicke. Nimol was discovered by her bandmates performing in nightclubs in Long Beach—home of the world’s biggest Cambodian community outside of Phnom Penh.

The band has released three four albums (including the soundtrack to Sleepwalking Through The Mekong), along with a collection of lost Cambodian classics, Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia. Their music has also been featured in numerous films and TV shows including City of Ghosts, Must Love Dogs, Broken Flowers, True Blood and Weeds.

The group's 2005 album Escape From Dragon House included an original song, "“One Thousand Tears Of A Tarantula,” that was a tribute to the lost Khmer rockers--in particular Huoy Meas, who was forced to sing and walk around in circles naked until dropping dead from heat exposure and thirst.

“All musicians--anyone who was educated—were killed,” said Ethan Holtzman in an interview. “All the artists that influenced Dengue Fever perished. But as we started growing as a band we realized how important this music is for Cambodians, and that no one was really playing it over here."

The band has become a major attraction at international music festivals and is currently in the process of preparing its next album for release later this year.

“During our first gig at a dive bar in L.A. I imagined a future of smokey clubs--while dreaming of a headlining tour across the States," said Williams. "Now that we’ve arrived at performing an open air concert in Phnom Penh commemorating such a beautiful legacy, I'm stunned. I'm feeling the goodness.”