A Grammy Award is the highest honor there is in the music industry, and a Cambodian band has been nominated in two categories at next year’s Grammys in the United States. Very few bands from Asia have ever been nominated for a Grammy, and despite Cambodia’s rich musical history, no band from the Kingdom has ever been nominated, until now.
Krom, a Phnom Penh-based band whose songs are performed in Khmer and English, have been nominated in two sections of next year’s prestigious awards, for Best World Music Album and Song of the Year.
The band, made up of two Australians and three Cambodians, play an unusual and original blend of musical styles they call the Mekong Delta Blues, and their songs cover subjects that few other musicians dare to explore – things like prostitution, slavery and human trafficking – but subjects Cambodians know only too well.
“I call our music Mekong Delta blues, a variation on Mississippi blues, and the two other singers in the band, sisters Sophea and Sopheak Chamroeun, are both classically-trained Cambodian opera singers,” said songwriter, singer and guitarist Chris Minko, an Australian who spent many years working with disabled people in Cambodia.
“They sing like angels, while I’d probably make Tom Waits sound like a soprano.”
The other members of Krom, which means “group” in Khmer, are Jimmy Baeck, an Australian who plays slide guitar, sax and accordion, and Phnom Penh music shop owner and record producer James Mao Sokleap, who plays bass.
Few in Phnom Penh have seen Krom play live and they don’t do many shows, having played a couple of times in Phnom Penh and done several very successful shows in Bangkok last year.
“We’re not a pub band,” Mr. Minko told Khmer Times.
Krom has recorded three albums and has also been signed to a major American label called Music/Radio Promotions, which is a subsidiary of the famous Musik and Film company, one of the most successful in the US.
Stephen Wrench, who runs Musik and Film and helped produce Krom’s Grammy-nominated last album, is a big fan of the band and their music, high praise from a man who works with some of the world’s best artists. When asked about Krom’s chances of winning a Grammy, Mr. Wrench was optimistic.
“I am a nominating and voting member [of the Grammy Awards] and they have my vote and I will rally others to vote the same,” he told Khmer Times. “But in the end it is up to the voting members. I hate to venture to guess, but I believe in Krom.”
When asked which of the Grammy categories – Best World Music Album or Song of the Year – Krom stood the best chance of winning, Mr. Wench did not hesitate.
“Best World Music Album,” he said.
Mr. Wrench also explained what it was about Krom’s music that made it so different from most of the mainstream music being released these days.
“Everything. The originality, the context of the subject matter, the rawness of emotions. Krom is definitely in a class all their own.
“We hope Krom will become a household name, win a Grammy and be the opening act for some of the biggest names in music. The whole world is open to them – exert that positive energy, and who knows?”
Some of Krom’s music is so dark it makes Leonard Cohen seem like a pop singer.
The band’s latest release, Mekong Delta Blues, has a Grammy nomination in the Best World Music Album category, while the nomination for Song of the Year is for Lil Suzy, a sad tale about a country girl who comes to the city looking for a better life and ends up a drug-addicted prostitute.
“The Grammys are a musician’s highest honor of recognition. Hopefully many world tours will arise from this,” said Mr. Wrench.
“We have been working on this [world tours] and hopefully it will come to fruition very soon. The biggest benefit from Krom being nominated at the Grammys will be world recognition.”
The 59th annual Grammy Awards will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 12 next year and cover music released throughout 2016.
Krom’s Grammy-nominated album, The Mekong Delta Blues, is available online via Sony and Amazon and will soon be available at Monument Books.
The Chamroeun sisters, Sophea (left) and Sopheak, are Grammy nominees. Supplied