For the first time two single records of Baksey Cham Krong – the first Cambodian guitar band – are officially being reissued in an identical version. Between surf music and ballad, these two records released in 1963 and 1964 are an invitation to rediscover the effervescent Khmer musical scene of the 1960s.
The early 1960s are often described as the “golden age” of Cambodia, with a flourishing economy and a strong cultural development. As the country had just won its independence, the King Norodom Sihanouk – who had been a singer himself (see below) – encouraged dynamism and creativity in all aspects of cultural life.
In 1959, in the midst of this artistic turmoil, Mol Kamach and his brothers created a band: the Baksey Cham Krong (also spelled Bakseis Cham Krung) named after a temple of the Angkor site. The teenagers were influenced by the latest hits they had listened on the radio. For the music, Kagnol got his inspiration from the rock n’ roll of the Ventures and the Shadows while Kamach took over the vocal techniques of crooners such as Paul Anka. The lyrics were either in French (as for the song Ne penser qu’à toi) or in Khmer. The song Pleine Lune became a hit and revealed Kagnol’s musical genius at playing guitar and Kamach’s delicate voice. From their beginnings on the capital’s high school stages to their first broadcasts on national radio, the success of the Baksey Cham Krong was very quick. At the end of the decade the band already split, the brothers getting back to activities that conformed more with their parents’ expectations.
A few years later, in April 1975, the arrival of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh put an end to this musical development and started the darkest era of Cambodia’s contemporary history. A quarter of the population was killed in the Khmer Rouge genocide and the majority of artists and intellectuals were exterminated in a sordid will to wipe out any form of culture in the country. Films and music were banned, movie tapes and vinyls were destroyed. Mol Kamach and Mol Kagnol luckily managed to flee the country: one now lives in France, the other in the USA. Both still continue to make music nowadays.
Bearing witness to the past history, the reissue of these two single records of Baksey Cham Krong brings back to us the Cambodian musical scene of the 1960s.
Akuphone, the French label responsible for this release, is definitely in possession of a catalog worth exploring.