Ian Croft, on Chubmet Festival and Cambodia’s evolving music

Maddy Cowell / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Maddy Crowell

For five days last week Siem Reap hosted the first-ever Chubmet Festival, featuring 50 musicians playing in 20 venues throughout the city. The Chubmet festival is one of the first attempts to integrate Cambodia’s disjointed music scene on such a large scale. In five days, the festival boasted a sampling of jazz, rock, traditional Khmer, pop, hip hop, international and included both big and small name bands – among them Master Kong Nay, Dengue Fever, Kampot Playboys, Miss Sarawan Duo, Heng Pitu, Khong Khoy, The Cutters and Batbanger Band. 
The Weekly’s Maddy Crowell sat down last week with Ian Croft, the head of recording studio 60 Road Studios and the festival organizer, to discuss the festival and its plans for the future. 
MC: How did the idea for the festival get started?
I set up a recording studio with a guy called Clive a year ago, so that’s really how I came to get more involved in the music scene here. For a long time I’ve had a view that Siem Reap is a really nice place for a festival, it just feels like it’s the right place. For me I wanted to make it all about Cambodian music. 
What’s the point in spending your budget to bring in bands from overseas? 
I have no issue with the expat bands here, but we put together the schedule more with the intention of providing something interesting people don’t always know about. Because my job as the owner of a music studio is to be aware of the music scene here, of what’s happening here. 
In organizing the festival, were you searching for a particular genre of music to work with? 
No. In the festival we’ve tried to provide variety. The opening night was traditional. The second night was Battle of the Bands. Wednesday night was Dengue Fever, but we did a second event over on Pub Street. I think it’s important to engage the Cambodian audience more, and they’re not necessarily going to come here so we did an event with Kampot Playboys and a barang band from Phnom Penh. 
For example, we’ve got Kong Nay, a blind musician, who’s the greatest blind musician playing the chapey-dong veng, along with an old Norwegian musician.
So what we’re trying to do is make people think about what is music, what is entertaining. I think the privilege we have coming at this is to come at it from an artistic viewpoint and seek to challenge people a little in terms of what is music and arts. It’s not about the big lights or the big stage. 
The idea of a music festival is very “Western.” You’ve got Primavera Sound, Glastonbury, Coachella, Burning Man, Lollapalooza attracting tens of thousands each year. Are you trying to bring some of these themes into Cambodia’s music festival?
Maybe some of the concepts, yes. But not the music. Even someone like Dengue Fever, who is the big name of the festival, their lead singer’s Cambodian. This jazz unit we’re featuring tonight, they’re actually here in Cambodia for two weeks with Cambodian Living Arts working with schoolchildren. 
Do you feel there’s a “hole” in the music scene here that needs to be filled?
Yeah, maybe a little bit. We’ve really tried to bring in a lot of bands who don’t play here regularly, bands from Phnom Penh and Kampot. 
How did you recruit or discover the Cambodian musicians?
We found them. We’ve been running workshops for [Cambodian Living Arts], and I wanted to get them involved. Kong Nay was a real privilege bringing in – he hadn’t been to Siem Reap for five years. For Battle of the Bands, we were scouting around a lot of different venues, talking around and scouting on foot. But I think we kind of struck gold there, some of the bands were really good.
What will you change for next year?
We have a film festival here, there’s an art festival, a puppet parade. But there’s not so much around music and arts. I think we’ll go back to the drawing board for a little bit and think about what is the right structure for next year. Should we do more or less? We’re doing six to seven hours of music on the main day. I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t do that!
For you, what is this festival about?
Yeah, I mean for me I wanted to do something with variety that’s inclusive. I want to bring things that people wouldn’t see to them. Yeah? New Cambodian artists have never played on a big stage like that before. 
So that’s what we’re trying to do – which is quite difficult. It’s quite difficult in the messaging. Because I can say, “Come to my concert and you’ll see something you’ve never heard about.” And you’ll say, “Well, why is that cool?” And you won’t know until you go there. But that element of surprising people, of taking people to something, it’s never been done here before. 
Do you feel like the music scene is Cambodia is changing?
I think it’s grown. And I think it’s changing fast. There’s a strong push away from copying Thai music or Chinese music. There are still foreign influences but influence is one thing – copying is another. There’s a movement away from copying. Here we’re trying to approach it differently. Make it interesting and get people to think outside the box as to what’s enjoyable and fun as music. 
Is there any clash, as you see it, between preserving traditional Khmer music and modernizing? 
My personal view is there’s a need to modernize. At some point in the early 40’s or 50’s, someone put pickups in the guitar, and people started doing fun things with it. [Laughs] Same with the violin. 
I think the traditional stuff has its place, it’s part of the culture, it’s just like we have our philharmonic orchestras back home. I think as well, a lot of the modern influences come from the 60’s and 70’s, which is fine, it’s logical. Every era sort of comes out of the last era. Cambodia missed a big era. So it’s natural to look back on those eras, rearrange them, change something, speed something up, slow something down.

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