The beauty of Siem Reap is that you never know who washes up in in town – especially when it comes to musicians. Earlier this year, a story surfaced that singer and guitarist Diego Dimarques – who’d come to Cambodia as part of a sea change – was in fact the ‘lost’ Gipsy King member living in exile in Siem Reap.
Talented Diego quickly debunked that urban myth, stating his only connection to the Gypsy Kings was that that he played some of their music.
Now Siem Reap plays host to new musical resident, South African piano man Lorenzo Chetty, fresh from almost a decade of living in China. But he’s not in town as part of a sea change, because he regularly goes to sea as headline performer on Princess Cruises.
He’ll be working on the cruise ship Coral Princess from mid-December to mid-January, sailing to ports throughout the Americas, and then it’s back to his new home in Temple Town.
“I arrived in Siem Reap in July,” he says, “I was looking for a creative place to launch and grow my own music brand label, Groove Emporia.
“I was booked last year to perform at a private event in Sihanoukville – my first visit to Cambodia – and was quite taken up with the country. So I decided to research more, and came across the city of Siem Reap.
“The city’s enchantment hooked me. I started connecting online with people who were living here and engaging in forum discussions as well for about eight months, and got a good feel for the place that way.
“I realised that Siem Reap was a creative’s heaven, and decided that I needed to be here. It is a dynamic place bursting with energy, yet is calm and relaxed. As a musician, singer and producer, I have traveled worldwide and Siem Reap is a unique place with a distinctive feel.
“After only two months of living here, I am convinced that Siem Reap as on track to becoming the Cultural Capital of South East Asia.”
And Lorenzo certainly has big plans for his new life in Siem Reap.
‘I am growing Groove Emporia, my music brand label here – this is my primary focus,” he says. “I’ve gotten involved in performing live, interacting with other creative people like musicians, artists, filmmakers, as well as with other entrepreneurs and the city’s dynamic folk, exploring new and exciting ventures.
“I am creating events for various entities like the hospitality, NGO and corporate sectors, correlating these with external audiences as well, to attract them to this mesmerising city.
“And finally, I look forward to establishing a series of workshops to help grow local talents, impart knowledge and skills, boost their creativity, to help them become real players on the world stage, and bringing in major international partners to compliment this venture.”
Lorenzo points out that while he’s now imbued with worldwide live performance and music producing skills due to a vibrant musical career, it’s a career that almost didn’t happen.
Despite growing up in a musical family in South Africa, the young Lorenzo had at first decided to get a real job and began studying to be a lawyer.
“My mother – nee Rita Lawrence – was a young prodigy at the piano and in classical music, and her name spread far and wide,” he says.
“However, she grew up during the darkest days of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and there was absolutely no open road for her to turn music into a fulltime profession. So unfortunately she was never able to pursue a career in professional classical music. Instead she founded a music school.
“My uncle, Bernie Lawrence, her youngest brother, took up playing bass guitar and became a very famous bass guitarist along with his band [Big Daddy].
“Once again, during the apartheid regime in South Africa, doors were closed to people of colour. Yet in spite of this, his band became the backing band of choice for the regional tours of major touring artists such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, and he even played bass for Frank Sinatra.
“I do have a distant memory of being in the presence of these great artists…it was actually my uncle who had the greatest influence on me, and through whom I experienced the energy of the artists he has performed with.”
Lorenzo had piano lessons for two years starting when he was five and during his university days he began hanging out with musicians.
“A good friend of mine was studying for a degree in jazz, and I would hang out with him at the music campus every day,” he says, “I was not a hotshot pianist, but since pianists were hard to come by I was able to get involved in jam sessions and eventually gigs, all the while learning a lot from them.
“ Most of my music ‘lessons’ really came from interaction with other excellent musicians, as well as being influenced by whatever music my uncle’s band was performing at the time. I think I set very high goals for myself of what I wanted to be able to perform on a piano, and I never had a thought of failing.”
And so Lorenzo the piano man was born, and he’s quick to extol the virtues of his chosen instrument.
“Playing the piano is like driving a big space craft – one has to sit ‘at’ the piano and play ‘with’ it, not on it,” he says,
“The piano is almost a complete spectrum of music – it contains the ability to create rhythm, harmony, bass, treble, accompaniment, and lead work, amongst others.
“As a pianist the instrument teaches one about many aspects of music, and enables one to think and comprehend far more than what other instruments can do. The instrument also has the ability to go from intimate expression to grandiose, which no other current instrument can do.”