Back in 2013, in his first week in Phnom Penh, Joe Wrigley walked into an open mic I ran at the time at Baitong Restaurant. On that particular evening, the audience was select: Joe met my mum, my friend Mealea, and Mealea’s singing ambitions. Conversations ensued, and within weeks, the band Miss Sarawan was launched, slowly evolving into a highly professional and much in demand outfit.
You may have seen them in many different permutations; the hardworking core duo will at times expand, say for a wedding, to six or seven players, offering a mix of Cambodian Golden Era classics, English language songs and originals. Meanwhile, Joe is also sighted regularly leading bands such as Grass Snake Revival and Joe & the Jumping Jacks.
“Miss Sarawan has always been most worthy or serious project,” Joe explains, “But it’s always been gig, gig, gig, gig. Our original material has always been on the backburner, and years go by and you think, hey, we haven’t recorded that album yet.”
The time is ripe to get Miss Sarawan into the studio, says Joe. “When it comes to this time of year, April and May, gigging musicians get a bit more free time than usual, so I decided it was time to push the button and book the studio. We’re going to Siem Reap, there’s a wonderful studio there called 60 Road.”
There is, however, a particular vision at work here, inspired but not enslaved by the Golden Era. “It won’t be like an anthology or a sampler,” says Joe. “This mini-album will be six of our best songs, done in a specific style. Something that you might hear on the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch film.”
The album title is inspired by Mealea’s personality, says Joe. “Sabay Jong Jam, which roughly means ‘happy, I want to remember’, reflecting her fun, bubbly, positivity.”
Recording and releasing the album is not the end in itself. Joe sees this very much as the stepping stone to Miss Sarawan mounting an international touring programme, playing in Europe, the USA and across Asia. “To get Miss Sarawan up and out into the world, we need to apply to this festival and that event. We need this album to do that, to present our version of that Golden Era sound.”
And Miss Sarawan is extending the offer to be part of this fun, bubbly, positive project through a crowdfunding campaign launched this week at Indie Go Go (www.igg.me/at/7srqEeKanqM/x/21189762). Funds raised will go towards paying for studio time, mixing, mastering, accommodation, transport, and all the sundry expenses that accrue with any recording project. A wide range of rewards are on offer, including pig roasts, private gigs, a river cruise extravaganza, and even the much loved Ovation acoustic guitar that Joe walked into Baitong with six years ago, that today has become a Phnom Penh music holy relic.
Tonight, May 3, a special concert at LF Social Club will kick off the campaign in earnest, featuring the full recording band: Mealea singing, Joe on guitar, Antti Siitonen on drums, Andrey Mesheryakov on bass, and Chea Sophal on keyboards, with the Phnom Devils (featured in these pages recently) in support. Special limited edition t-shirts will be available on the night.
The band will be in the studio for intensive four days in the middle of May; the funding campaign will continue throughout the month, on an all-or-nothing basis. This is your chance to help Miss Sarawan see the world and be part of something bigger. As Mealea says herself, “Let this mother tour around the world!”