April 22, 2004

Cambodian Rocks & Turkish Delights: 60's Asian Garage Rock
(originally aired 25th Aug 2003)

Back in the mid 90's, while en route to Angkor Wat, American tourist Paul Wheeler became captivated by a tape of 60's Cambodian rock which was played repeatedly by his driver. The music owed a lot to the US acid-rock and psychedelia of the period, BUT it was not just some listless copy of the Great Cultural Exporter's tunes... This was a vigorous, locally-inflected reinterpretation of the US psych sound by top-notch artists... And it rocked!

Wheeler never found out the names of any of the songs or artists, but by the time he got back to Phnom Penh, he was able to hum the tunes well enough to score copies from local cassette peddlars. When he got back to the States, he released the pick of them on a compilation called Cambodian Rocks.

In time, this CD would spawn a modest US-based rebirth of this music which had been cut off in its prime when the genocidal Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Now, some 8 years after its release, there is a whole series of Cambodian Rocks compilations available from the Khmer Rocks website (and these actually have track and artist info). In California, there are even two highly respected bands, Dengue Fever and Neung Phak, who play Cambodian style rock (Neung Phak also include songs from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan).

At the other end of the Asian continent is another country whose psych-rock history has recently become an object of Western hipster fascination - Turkey...

And, apparently, it is a long and rich history indeed. Where Western psychedelic music pretty much petered out at the beginning of the 70's, its Turkish cousin remained a big part of the local scene for much of that decade. This was probably helped in part by the fact that many of the artists simply used US acid-rock as a influence, and kept their roots firmly in Anatolian folk traditions. This is reflected both in the songwriting and instrumentation, which often relied as much on the oud, saz and darbuka as it did on your standard fuzzed-out guitar.

For a good introduction to this music, check out some of the articles on this Turkish prog site and track down the compilation CDs, Turkish Delights and Hava Narghile. If this whets your appetite and you want more, then have a rummage through the excellent collection of re-issues in the Middle Eastern section of Aquarius Records. (As always, there are streamed audio "highlights" from most of the albums listed.)

Posted by Warren at April 22, 2004 07:00 PM | World