The soundtrack to Dengue Fever’s powerful documentary Sleepwalking Through The Mekong is as much a treasure as the film itself.
As you may or may not know, Dengue Fever is a L.A. band whose mission is to resurrect the rich musical heritage of Cambodia. It is a legacy which was nearly wiped off the face of the Earth by the Khmer Rouge. While this is certainly a noble undertaking, there is another aspect to their quest. Their music just purely and simply rocks, whether you understand the lyrics or not.
When Dengue Fever came together in Los Angeles, the one missing ingredient was finding an actual Cambodian singer for the band. They hit the jackpot with Chham Nimol, a former Cambodian pop star who had relocated to L.A. five years previous to joining the band. With all of the pieces of the puzzle complete, Dengue Fever began to garner notice. They released three CDs and gigged regularly, steadily building their audience.
Then Dengue Fever made the journey they were seemingly destined for. They toured Cambodia, which resulted in the documentary Sleepwalking Through The Mekong. The DVD is brilliant, highly recommended, and thoroughly deserving of all the accolades it has received. But the soundtrack is just as important. The film has a visual story to tell, and the music necessarily takes a back seat to it.
But the music really is the reason for the story, and by listening to this superb collection, one quickly sees what all the fuss is about. Dengue Fever obviously have a lot of influences. I count a dozen just off the top of my head on a cursory listen, and I’m sure that is just the tip of the iceberg. The title song bears this out in spades. Imagine Martin Denny in the dark Cambodian jungle, with a lonely guitar and a haunting female voice for companionship. It is an appropriately mysterious beginning for this experience.
The majority of music on this soundtrack is by Dengue Fever, but they pay tribute to some of Cambodia’s musical legends as well. There are tracks by Meas Samoun, Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, and Khee Sokley included here. Dengue Fever also get together with Master Musicians Tep Mary, and Kong Nai for some more traditional sounds.
The result is a tremendous sampler of music. Some have called what Dengue Fever do a sort of musical Bollywood. I disagree. Bollywood takes an inherently American film language, and spins it back. But what Dengue Fever do is far more subversive. They take the lost Cambodian music of the 60’s and 70’s, which was a Bollywood excersize, and spin that whole thing back to Cambodia. It is truly fascinating stuff.
Most of all, it just flat out rocks.