Wednesday, April 04, 2007

World (Music) Turned Upside Down

I've never been a huge fan of what the New York Times loosely refers to and fervently reviews as "world music."
But I recently discovered a band that is, in its own twisted way, a true representative of world music.
Dengue Fever is from Los Angeles. The story goes like this: Cool LA musician named Ethan Holzman goes to Cambodia with a friend, falls in love with a style of pop music with roots in '60's American garage punk. Cool LA musician comes back to the States, gets other LA musicians involved, forms Cambodian pop cover band. Eventually meets a Thai woman named Chhom Nimol, who was an actual Cambodian pop superstar, before emigrating to the Little Phnom Penh area of Long Beach, California. Convinces her to become lead singer. Band switches to original material with roots in '60's Thai pop and 21st century American indie pop. What could be better?
When I listen to their album, I imagine I am walking down a crowded alley in Bangkok, with the music blaring out of cheap speakers hanging in the doorways of seedy dark bars. At the same time, the dynamics and textures of the music are very knowingly American, spanning the 60's, 70's, 80's, '90's - right up to the present.
I love the way music can go from it's crude source (60's American punk), get reinterpreted and adapted by a foreign culture, and then come back here and get reinterpreted yet again.
Dengue Fever - Sni Bong
(I do not have any idea what the lyrics mean.)
Purchase Escape From the Dragon House, Dengue Fever's latest album, on their website.