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V/A - Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia

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Artist: V/A

Album: Ethnic Minority Music of Northeast Cambodia

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Jun. 10, 2006

Two teenage girls, their tribes in fractious relations with one another, create two transcendent moments on Ethnic Minority music of Northeast Cambodia (EMMoNEC). Jouen, a Tampoan, and an unnamed Jarai youngster both sing “melancholic love songs,” but in truth they emanate joy. Jouen’s confidence beams through her reedy, thin voice on the unnamed 15th track, while her counterpart’s boyish throaty style on “Ayin/Ayon” (male love/female lover) teeters toward breakdown and giggles.

EMMoNEC is a quiet, intense record, its performers tense but poised. The approach, a census-taking, resembles the discs of Philip Yampolsky’s Music of Indonesia series for Smithsonian Folkways that catalogue local musics of the Eastern Indonesian islands more than anything released before on Sublime Frequencies.

While Alan Bishop’s label has ventured into ethnomusicological territory before, for instance on Zhang Jian’s Streets of Lhasa, EMMoNEC, recorded by Laurent Jeanneau, is academic in ways its predecessors were not: Jeanneau lived like an anthropologist for two years in six Cambodian villages and adopts many of the tropes of anthropological recording. Jeanneau does not record as a tourist, and we hear the songs through his (relative) insider point of view.

Jeanneau often takes us, quite literally, into the local scene. Children squawk around the periphery of many songs and sometimes Jeanneau records from the middle of an audience. This extra-musicality creates a sonic document that chronicles a geographic place, privileging the tribal lifestyle over the specific music the tribes produce. Whether the effect is negative or positive depends on the listener’s perspective

Some of the singing styles on EMMoNEC, like the raspy chants of the village elders, could be found in many parts of Southeast Asia, but the Northeast Cambodian instrumentation is unique. Gongs are the most prevalent instrument, and ritually the most important. The players wring impossible effects from metal – the flat Phnong gongs on Track 10 squawk like deflating bagpipes or resonate like the Javanese slenthem. Other remarkable instruments include Haet Hout, “a Tampoan flute made out of 9 bamboo tubes played by women,” and the single-stringed Mum which the Krung have used for millennia and which appears in the carvings of Angkor Wat.

Jeanneau states in the liner notes that he had no idea what to expect when he headed to this region and was cheered to find such riches. He might have found as much anywhere, so we’re fortunate to have the new SF (Frequencies) joining the old SF (Folkways) in bringing it all back home.

By Josie Clowney

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