Reviewed: Dengue Fever's Sleepwalking Through the Mekong (DVD and CD)

April 17, 2009

Dengue Fever 

THIS IS NOT JUST YET ANOTHER BUNCH of American musicians playing psychedelic Cambodian music from the ’60s and ’70s.

 Dengue Fever is a six-piece American band from Los Angeles that plays pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian rock music, with most songs sung in Khmer by female Cambodian-American vocalist Chhom Nimol. The band plays both covers and originals, all of which absolutely exude period vibe, due largely to Zac Holtzman’s psychotropic guitar work and his brother Ethan’s freaky Farfisa excursions.

The film is ostensibly about the band’s sojourn to Cambodia in 2005, where they recorded new songs and performed in various venues—but more importantly it provides fascinating insights into the Cambodian musical culture that was all but eradicated during the political turmoil of the late ’70s. There is lots of great music here, with extended excerpts from studios and live shows, but much of the story is told visually through filmmaker John Pirozzi’s deft camera direction and editing rather than with sound. Bonus material includes interviews with three master Cambodian musicians.

An accompanying CD contains music from the soundtrack. I had no idea what to expect when I popped this into my DVD player, but an hour later I was very glad that I had. M80.

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