Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cooking Khmer style

An attraction that is gaining in popularity, is learning to cook, Khmer style. Whilst I get a nosebleed whenever I get near a kitchen, lots of travellers are keen to try their culinary skills whilst on holiday and such places as the Cambodia Cooking Class, which operates in Phnom Penh, are becoming more and more popular. For $20, you get a full day that includes a visit to the market to buy the ingredients and then hands-on preparation of your traditional Khmer recipes under the supervision of an experienced, English-speaking teacher cook. Whilst I met up with the Pepy Ride crew in cooking action at the Smokin' Pot in Battambang in January, and other places are quickly catching onto this new tourist attraction, the Cooking Class that operates out of the Frizz restaurant on Sisowath Quay is getting great reviews, so take a look at their website to find out more.

Whilst on the food front, try these websites by two of my pals, for more tasty morsels: Kim Fay's Serveitforth blog and Karen J Coates' Ramblingspoon.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Cambodia's forgotten children

What began as a university project for Chris Cook and Matt Wenham has turned into much more for the two fledgling British film-makers. A trip to Cambodia in the summer of 2005 was the catalyst for the two friends, who have now completed a thirty minute documentary, Cambodia's Forgotten Children, which offers a unique insight into the problems facing young people in Phnom Penh today. The film takes you to the capital's poorest areas and explains why so many children are at risk from exploitation, while introducing the viewer to some of the NGO's that are trying to help. A series of touching interviews and hard hitting footage will highlight an underprivileged and vulnerable youth, whose spirit and resilience shines through against all odds.

The film was shot in January of this year with the assistance of the South East Asia Children's Mercy Fund (SACMF), Vulnerable Children's Assistance Organisation (VCAO), Jeanine's Children Association (JCA), Healthcare Centre for Children (HCC), Lighthouse orphanage and Playsafe youth centre. Chris and Matt are putting on a fund-raising event on 28 November 2006 at the Picturedrome pub, in Kettering Road, Northampton, UK. They're looking to sell 200 tickets and will screen their film as well as host a live music band, finger food, drinks, an auction and raffle plus much more, with all proceeds going to the NGO's that featured in the film. If you can help or want to know more, email them here.

David Channer - a friend of Cambodia

The funeral service for David Channer will take place in London tomorrow. He died peacefully on Friday 15th September and will be fondly remembered by all who knew him as a photographer, documentary film-maker and friend to Cambodia. In 1995 he received an honour from the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia for services to peace and is survived by his son Alan, with whom he produced three documentaries about Cambodia. I met David when he presented his last film, The Cross and the Bodhi Tree, at my Magic of Cambodia event in June 2003, having already produced two other films, The Serene Life, and The Serene Smile.

David was born in Quetta, now in Pakistan, in 1925. As a stills photographer, he attended the Afro-Asian Conference [first summit of Non-Aligned Nations] at Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. His pictures of Asian and African heads of state have been published in newspapers and magazines worldwide. David began to make 16mm documentary films in India in the 1960s, and went onto shoot and produce films on three continents. His cinematography has been acclaimed at international film festivals in Europe and the United States. Alongwith Alan and under the auspices of FLTfilms, they developed a focus on ethics and spiritual traditions, sustainable development and cultural survival in Asia and Africa.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Museum pieces on the move

One of my favoured haunts in Phnom Penh is the National Museum, often alive to the chatter of school-children visiting its permanent exhibitions containing around 1,500 pieces on display and no less than another 14,000 objects in the museum's basement. A hive of activity is taking place behind the scenes to catalogue and conserve each of these items and from time to time, some of the most precious exhibits are allowed to leave the country. Exhibitions of Khmer art have taken place in America, France and Japan and another tour, this time to Germany, will take place in December. From 15 December through til 9 April 2007, Bonn will host the 'Angkor - Sacred Heritage of Cambodia' exhibition, which will contain 140 Khmer treasures of stone sculptures, bronze figures, silver objects and paintings.

Meanwhile, back in Phnom Penh, air-conditioning is being installed in one room for a forthcoming exhibition of Rodin watercolours from the Rodin Museum in Paris. The works depict classical Khmer dancers, whom the artist painted when the troupe travelled to France in 1906. Elsewhere in Cambodia, work is currently being undertaken at a series of provincial museums that includes restoring buildings, training staff and creating databases of the exhibits in situ. I visited the two museums in Battambang in January and they are well worth the effort to pay a visit if you have the time. Photo (left): A four-armed Vishnu from the National Museum. The statue is from the 9th century and was found at Prasat Damrei Krap on Phnom Kulen.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Percy Dread on top form

Percy Dread and the author - August 2005
One forthcoming CD to keep on your radar is Percy Dread's debut solo CD, Upside Downside, which is scheduled for release soon. Percy Dread was the lead singer and songwriter with one of Britain's best-loved reggae combo's, The Natural-Ites, back in the '80s, and this CD marks a polished return to the reggae fold for this Nottingham-based artist. I've been fortunate to hear a pre-release copy and its an excellent collection of old and new tunes, with Percy Dread's soulful voice dominant throughout. Produced by his former Realistics compatriot Lenroy Guiste, Percy Dread has continued to write and diversify himself into different musical styles such as hip-hop though as a rastafarian, reggae remains at his core and the new CD never strays far from his beliefs. To listen to samples of his new music, go to Percy Dread's recently updated website here. My own webpages on Percy Dread and The Natural-Ites can be found here.

My personal review of the new CD is: 'Percy Dread has produced a solo CD of superior quality, combining together a heady mix of fresh new tunes and old classics, revamped and brought up to date, that demonstrate his voice has lost none of its exquisitely soulful qualities. He never strays far from his Rasta beliefs and engages the listener with a series of strong harmonies and catchy chorus lines that hook you into the moment. Fourteen tracks and fifty-five minutes of powerful roots music, kicks off in fine style with one of the album's strongest offerings in Pollution, followed by the title track (with video), Upside Downside. Percy Dread's strength is his stirring and emotional voice quality that surges through both of these songs. Black Roses is the first of three Natural Ites' classics, Love Jah (always one of my personal favourites) and Jah Works Mamma are the others, which recall the heady days of the '80s when the group were at the height of their success. These refreshers and other revival songs like Dungeon and Foggy Road which Percy Dread has breathed new life into, jockey for position alongside sturdy brand new offerings like Guide Me and Can't Look Back. Straying from his rootsy sound into a more mechanical vibe, Many Will Be Called was my least favoured tune, though the rest of Percy Dread's gifts to us more than compensate. An impressive return to the fold for one of Britain's best-loved roots singers.'

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Angkor's living icon - Choun Nhiem

Do you recognise this living icon of Angkor? His name is Choun Nhiem, he's eighty-four years old and features in the photos of thousands of tourists that have visited the Angkorean temple of Ta Prohm. Many will recognise his face, his hunched stature, and like the white-robed nuns who tend the statues at Bayon and the sweet little girls who sell trinkets and souvenirs amongst the temples, he's become one of Angkor's living icons. A widow and nearly blind, Choun Nhiem spends his days sweeping leaves from the courtyards and corridors of Ta Prohm and is recognised by many from his appearance on the cover of the Lonely Planet guidebook. For the past fifteen years he's been as much a part of Ta Prohm as the roots and trees that clasp the temple walls in their vice-like grip. Choun Nhiem was a labourer at the Angkor site before the Khmer Rouge years, during which he lost two sons. He lives in a small village near the temple, has three surviving children and returns to Ta Prohm every day to carry out his duties, and to sell the occasional trinket to tourists - he offered me a small cowbell when I first met him in 1997. I've seen Choun Nhiem every time I've returned to the temple on my visits to Angkor, and I hope to see him for many years to come, Ta Prohm wouldn't be the same without him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kompong Cham in print...

The latest quarterly edition of Tourism Asean (Sept-Dec) has just arrived through my letter-box. This is a gorgeously glossy trade magazine published in Singapore and sent to travel agents around the globe, in order to promote the exotic locations of Asia. In the previous edition, my own story on the Tonle Sap Lake was included, this time around, my 'Touring the Temples of Kompong Cham' article and a handful of colour photos took up two pages and sat between articles on Myanmar and Saigon.

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Also landing on my doormat was a gift from author Bob Philpotts who has just returned home from a trip to Phnom Penh. He kindly sent me a copy of a book dedicated to the cyclo-drivers of Cambodia's capital city, called Kings of the Road - The Cyclos of Phnom Penh. New Zealand photo-journalist and author Robert Joiner published his 100-page glossy coffee-table book in 2005 in order to draw attention to these hard-working men who play an important role in the city's infrastructure. Its full of dazzling colour photos and depicts the life of the cyclo-driver on the streets of Phnom Penh. Last Word Books are the publishers and can be contacted here. Buying the book will help the activities of the NGO devoted to supporting cyclo-drivers in the city, The Cyclo Centre. Bob Philpotts is also an author, having published The Coast of Cambodia and A Port for Independence - The Origins of Sihanoukville through Blackwater Books.

Media frenzy over Casualty

The newspapers and magazines in Britain have been overflowing with Cambodia in every eye-catching headline this week, in the lead up to this weekend's double-episode of the hospital drama, Casualty, on BBC tv. The tv series is celebrating its 20th anniversary and will be showing the first two programme's of its newest run, with the main characters doing their bit for the needy in Cambodia. Its big news here in the UK, with Cathy Shipton - who plays popular nurse Duffy - appearing on breakfast television and with copious magazine and newspaper pages devoted to her story and that of her tv co-stars. The bulk of the shooting took place in rural countryside as the actors open up a new clinic, though filming also took place in Phnom Penh's Central Market and elsewhere in the city. In the photo below, Duffy welcomes her colleagues (courtesy of BBC).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dara Duong's search for the truth

Dara Duong is someone who makes things happen. Since his arrival in the USA in 1999 he has made it his mission to educate people about the country of his birth and its rich traditions. He created the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, which began in his garage and is now in Seattle and open to the public. Another avenue to educate others is through a documentary film that the 35 year old has recently completed. Through first hand accounts, archival footage, and the re-enactment of the 1972 murder of his father, Searching For The Truth is Duong's journey back to Cambodia to investigate what took place, and why. He includes rare footage of his own interviews with two key architects of the Khmer Rouge regime, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Duong, with his mother and siblings, escaped to the Thai border camps after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, where they lived for the next ten years. He returned to Cambodia to complete his university studies and worked to promote democracy and human rights, as well as working with youths, before leaving for the US in 1999, becoming a US citizen in 2004. Read more about him at his website and the Museum.

Casualty's 20th birthday in Cambodia

We're just days away from celebrating the 20th anniversary of the popular BBC tv medical drama, Casualty and their double episode that takes their central characters on a journey to Cambodia. Duffy, played by Cathy Shipton (above), opens a rural clinic with the help of her old pals Charlie, Abs, Guppy and Comfort, and of course the usual selection of medical emergencies. Back home, in exchange for the medical staff whizzing off to Cambodia, a Khmer doctor is on an exchange visit to England, played by actor Bounsy Luang Thinith. The two episode curtain-raiser for the new series take place on BBC1 at 8.20pm on Saturday 23rd, and 8pm on Sunday 24th. In an interview with The Daily Record, Cathy Shipton was gushing in her praise of her 4-week visit to Cambodia; "... it was an amazing experience and going there made me realise how lucky I am. The poverty is awful but I'll always remember how welcoming the people in Cambodia were. They smiled morning, noon and night....I'd love to return and teach in a school for a couple of months when my daughter is a bit older. It is a wonderful country."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Tenth Dancer - Em Theay

After posting the Beyond the Killing Fields blog entry yesterday, I recalled that Em Theay (pictured) was the main subject of a documentary I watched many years ago called The Tenth Dancer, which focused on the strength and resilience of the women of Cambodia in rebuilding their traditions from the fragments of a shattered society. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the death or disappearance of over 90% of Cambodian artists, including most of the dancers of the Royal Ballet. Theay was one of the 10% to survive. The Tenth Dancer was made as long ago as 1993. Em Theay is still dancing and teaching today and performing abroad at the age of 75 years old - by anyone's reckoning that is a remarkable story.

Em Theay was chosen to dance at the age of seven by Queen Kossomak, for whom her parents worked as domestic servants. She grew up in the Royal Palace and was a dancer and singer in King Sihanouk's Royal Ballet until the Khmer Rouge took over her country. At that time she was forty-three and was sent to live in Battambang, where her talents didn't go unnoticed and her captors encouraged her to sing and dance as well as work in the fields. In 1975, twelve of her 18 children were alive. By the end of the KR period, seven had died and only five were left. Em Theay returned to Phnom Penh where her knowledge and skills of the traditional arts were put to use as a teacher at the National Dance Theatre and the Royal University of Fine Arts until quite recently. She is a vital link to Cambodia's past, quite literally a living national treasure and one that Cambodia should be rightly proud of.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Beyond the Killing Fields

The above photo is from the docu-performance, The Continuum - Beyond the Killing Fields, which has played across the globe and which participated in the Gothenberg Festival at the end of August in Sweden. On the right is Kulikar Sotho, who usually acts as the show's translator and organiser but had to miss the Sweden trip after a courier lost her passport. The performance premiered in America in 2001 and has since played in Berlin, Rotterdam, Vienna, Singapore, Phnom Penh and London. Its the tale, in spoken word, dance, song, shadow puppets, video and music, of the lives of Cambodian artists who survived the Khmer Rouge massacres, including 75 year old Em Theay, principal dancer of the royal classical ballet and master puppeteer Mann Kosal. Theay is known as the Tenth Dancer; for each one who lived, nine others didn’t. Three of her sisters, all dancers, perished, along with seven of her children, a granddaughter and a son-in-law. She is now a kru, a master teacher, imparting her art to a generation robbed of its traditions. The show is produced by Singapore's Theatre Works company. To read the background behind the show, click here. And to find out more about Kulikar, click here. Photo courtesy of Mara Lavitt.

Leonie Smith - talented songstress

Last weekend I caught up with Leonie Smith, one of my favourite singers, backstage at The Drum in Aston, Birmingham. Leonie had just performed backing vocals with the group Gabbidon as part of the annual Birmingham ArtsFest. She has another upcoming gig with Gabbidon at The Jam House in Birmingham on Wednesday 27 September and has some other irons in the fire, so keep an eye on her webpage here. Leonie has also just started a new role, as a children's mentor, working with Birmingham City football club. I was immediately won over with her passion, energy and vocal range when I first saw her perform in 2004 and since then she's worked with a variety of performers such as Pato Banton, Janet Kay and Caroll Thompson and of course Gabbidon and TuffLuv. She is a very talented and confident performer with a strong stage presence, and equally at home in any genre of music, whether it be reggae, soul or jazz - catch her live if you can.

Ronnie's Journey

Ronnie Yimsut's memoir, Journey Into Light, which recalls his experiences as a 15-year old boy who survived five years of civil war, three years in a labour camp, Thai prison, and refugee camps before becoming a naturalized US citizen, is now available in Cambodia. Published by DC-Cam in Phnom Penh and translated by Eng Kok-Thay, each individual chapter is being published in the local Reaksmei Kampuchea, Cambodia's largest newspaper. The English version is being edited as I type and a publisher is being sought. Ronnie (pictured), a survivor of the KR period, now lives in Oregon and is a landscape architect. Some of his stories can already be found on the internet and in the book, Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields, compiled by Dith Pran. He also appeared in the film Bombhunters that I featured on my blog recently, a subject close to his heart as his eldest brother is a landmine amputee.

At the beginning of next year, Ronnie will be speaking to mass media and journalism students at the Royal Phnom Penh University as well as attending Henri Locard's Conference on Khmer Rouge survivors. He's also organised two public forums in Oregon in April 2007 to address the issues arising from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal being held in Cambodia next year. Presentations from scholars and survivors will be accompanied by film screenings and musical performances. Last but not least, Ronnie has successfully kicked-off a project in rural Cambodia called the Cow Bank Project, and has so far helped nine families with a sponsored breeding cow for each family. Sponsors can pay $250 for a breeding cow which a deserving family share and keep the first calf, with the second calf belonging to the project, which is then passed onto another family, and so on. You can find out more here.

Half-Marathon and Bike Race at Angkor

As if wandering around the Angkor temple complex wasn't exhausting enough for most people, those with more energy than sense can help to raise funds for Cambodian children by taking part in the annual Angkor Wat International Half-Marathon and Bike Race in partnership with Hearts of Gold, a Japanese organization working to assist land mine survivors, and Village Focus International. The races will take place this December 16 (Bike Race) and 17 (Half-Marathon) on a course that will wind through the temple complex. All proceeds will benefit land mine survivors and VFI child protection projects in the country. Just in case you are keen to put yourself through this extreme fitness program for a good cause - its 21 kilometres for the half-marathon and 85 kms for the bike race - go to the VFI website here. And good luck.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mu Sochua - giving women a voice

Human rights advocate Mu Sochua was born fifty years ago to an affluent Phnom Penh family but was sent to Paris by her parents in the early 70s as Cambodia became a battleground. She never saw her parents again as they were lost to the abyss created by the Khmer Rouge. However, she returned to the country of her birth in 1989 and has since spoken out on human trafficking, women's rights and worker exploitation and shows no sign of slowing down. During her 18 years in exile, Mu Sochua spent time in Paris, California and Italy as well as working in the refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. On her return, she formed the first organization for women called Khemara and joined the FUNCINPEC political party, winning a national assembly seat representing Battambang in 1998, and soon afterwards was asked to take over the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, one of only two women in the cabinet. Her tenure as Minister was marked by campaigns and programs that made a difference to the lives of women in Cambodia as well as highlighting the human rights deficencies she found all around her.

In July 2004 she stepped down from her role as a Minister, citing corruption as a major obstacle to her work. Almost immediately she transferred her allegiance to the Sam Rainsy party, where she is deputy head of the steering committee. Through her work in human rights, domestic violence, HIV awareness and the trafficking of women and children, she holds a unique position in her country and abroad, where her voice is listened to and respected. She recently joined forces with the K11 project to appear on the feature length documentary Virgin Harvest, the shocking exposure of child trafficking in her country.

Siem Reap street kids

Documentary filmmaker S. Smith Patrick is based in San Francisco and her film and photography work focuses on human rights and indigenous cultural issues in such places as Palestine, Aboriginal Australia and Vietnam. Currently in post production is her film, Seeing Siem Reap, where she looks deeply into the lives of Cambodian street kids in Siem Reap who take part in a photography and dance workshop, giving them the opportunity to express and educate themselves, and perhaps give them an alternative to life on the streets. The one-week workshop took place in October 2005 as part of the Angkor Photography Festival and the goal of this documentary is for viewers to learn about their lives and to inspire them to support education as a weapon against poverty. S. Smith Patrick (pictured) is the film's producer, director, writer and editor. You can read more about the film here. My thanks to Khmer440 for the link.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Vansy - a credit to her family

Nearly three years ago I met Vansy at a children's party. She was kicking lumps out of the boys and me in a game of football and did it with a beaming smile and a wicked laugh. She won me over immediately. I've subsequently caught up with Vansy and her family on my last two visits to Cambodia and she's growing up to be a daughter to be proud of. Her family live in a typical wooden home on stilts and even regular schooling for a few hours each day isn't guaranteed. Nevertheless, like so many schoolchildren of her age, she's determined to learn English and is making good progress judging by our conversation in January. I've just received some recent photos of Vansy - the value of mobile phone technology shouldn't be understated - and I'm looking forward to a stint in front of her school-class on my next visit to Cambodia. To find out more about Vansy, click here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Putsata Reang - journalist, author & teacher

Putsata Reang (pictured), journalist and author, was born in Cambodia thirty years ago and has now returned to the country of her birth to help train investigative reporters of the future in Phnom Penh, having received much acclaim for her own book, Deadly Secrets: From High School to High Crime, published in 2001. Born in Ream, Cambodia, she escaped with her family in 1975 and was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, where she worked for several newspapers, including the Seattle Times, the Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA), the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) and the San Jose Mercury News. As a reporter she covered the crime, the investigation, the trial, and it's aftermath of a series of brutal murders by two high school dropouts which she illuminated in her book, Deadly Secrets.
She returned to Cambodia in February 2005 on a journalism fellowship through the Alicia Patterson Foundation to write a series of stories on land issues (namely land grabbing). Now living in Phnom Penh, Putsata is currently working as the resident advisor for the Internews Network, which has implemented a series of journalism training activities for Khmer-language print journalists and editors. The project’s core focus has been on strengthening the ability of Cambodian journalists to pursue in-depth, balanced, investigative reporting and her work, which began in November 2005, is soon coming to an end. She and her assistant advisor Moeun Chhean Nariddh have worked closely with a dozen journalists, providing guidance as they select story ideas, formulate and carry out work plans and write and publish investigative stories. Its all designed to raise the standard amongst the top journalists working in Cambodia today and to utilise the experience and expertise of a successful writer like Putsata. After the program ends, she'll be heading home for a holiday and to resume her own career as a journalist.

Cambodia on TV

Last night on Channel 4 television in the UK, the Alive series brought us the story of Chris Moon, the British de-miner who was captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1993 and lived to tell the tale, in Kidnapped in the Killing Fields. It was a dramatised reconstruction with Moon himself providing most of the commentary. As the credits rolled at the end, I saw that my pals Kulikar Sotho, as the programme's Fixer, and Nick Ray were involved in supporting the filming in Cambodia, which they tell me took place in July 2005 and lasted about two weeks. The location for the filming was the village of Tahan on Phnom Kulen, which was used to replicate the Khmer Rouge stronghold that Moon and his interpreter and driver were taken to and held captive for three days. My blog post on Chris Moon contains more information about the programme.

Kulikar (pictured) and Nick, who include the films Tomb Raider and Two Brothers amongst their feature film successes in Cambodia, and a host of other documentary and television credits, also have a few other current tv projects in the offing. Filming has recently ended for a BBC Horizon drama on bird flu, they're working on a programme based around war tourism which will include Cambodia and Vietnam, The Lost World of Albert Kahn is based on his majestic photographic collection that includes both countries, whilst 1,000 Places to See Before You Die will feature both Phnom Penh and Angkor. When they're not involved in making these programmes happen, they're responsible for leading tour groups for their own company Hanuman Tourism and Nick also finds time to write the odd guidebook or six, as editor of the Lonely Planet, and others. You can read more about Nick Ray here. Meanwhile Kulikar has other strings to her bow, one of which I'll tell you about in the next day or two.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Even more music

Continuing the music theme, I watched a small part of the Birmingham ArtsFest last night, in Centenary Square, and particularly enjoyed the drumming from Handsworth's Dhol Blasters, the excellent guitar work of Slowburner's Mike Bannister and an acoustic set from Gabbidon. The latter was my main reason for attending this year's event, which regrettably doesn't include ReggaeRockz, though I'm reliably informed that part of ArtsFest will return in 2007. The set from Gabbidon contained six songs including Satta Massagana, Respect For Jah and Exodus, with Basil Gabbidon and Faisal on guitars, Colin on conga drum and Leonie Smith (pictured) and Sonia on backing vocals. Much later in the evening, at the after-show party at The Drum, Gabbidon re-appeared after a nice reggae set from Rockstone and the Y2K band. Joining the acoustic line-up was Paul Beckford on bass with Gabbidon belting out the same set as earlier in the evening but with a real reggae-rock kick. Don't forget that Gabbidon will be appearing at the Jam House in Birmingham on Wednesday 27 September - its well worth making the effort to get along and enjoy this top-notch band. And you can read more about Leonie Smith here.

Friday, September 8, 2006

More music

Yaz Alexander and The Tribunes paid a fitting tribute to the memory of Mikey Powell in last night's 3rd Anniversary Event at the Rainbow in Digbeth, Birmingham. Mikey Powell died in police custody in 2003 and his family and friends ensured that last night's event turned into a night of celebration of his life alongside the launch of a new CD from the makers of the film Injustice, featuring tracks by both artists and many more. Yaz had the crowd on their feet with another typically powerful vocal performance of tracks including This World, Freedom and I. To read more about the Mikey Powell Campaign for Justice, click here.

Tomorrow night, Gabbidon will take the stage in Birmingham City Centre as part of the city's annual ArtsFest, at 9.30pm. The band is the brainchild of ace guitarist Basil Gabbidon (pictured), who has been a leading light in the city's music circles for the last thirty years, having co-founded reggae legends Steel Pulse and had success with his own bands, including Bassdance. Basil plays a key role in the ArtsFest, having lured his old companions, Steel Pulse, back to play an open-air gig at last year's ReggaeRockz event. Gabbidon also have two future gigs lined-up at The Jam House in St Paul's Square, Birmingham on Wednesday 27 September and again on Wednesday, 29 November. I recommend you get along and enjoy their absorbing mix of reggae, ska and rock.

Another date to note in your diaries is Sunday 19 November when reggae singer-songwriter Jean Mclean, backed by the Memphis band, will take centre-stage at the Ipanema Bar in Broad Street, Birmingham, singing her own material as well as a tribute to Dennis Brown. Find out more about Jean Mclean here.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Odds and sods

A few hours ago I finally got to watch the feature film, Fateless, a Hungarian production focusing on the life of a young Jew who was forced to endure life in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I was expecting a real tear-jerker, especially as it was accompanied by the haunting melodies of the greatest film composer on the planet, Ennio Morricone - and there's no-one else alive who can bring tears to my eyes just by listening to their music. However, I was surprised by a film that is very much understated and low-key and which chooses to tell its story without sensationalism and whilst it is beautifully filmed, it doesn't strike to the heart as much as I'd normally expect from a holocaust movie. Nevertheless, well worth watching. To read more about the film, click here.

A few dates for your musical diary: Yaz Alexander is performing later tonight (7 September) at the Rainbow, Digbeth, Birmingham, start at 8pm as part of the 3rd Anniversary Event in memory of Mikey Powell who died in police custody. A new CD from the makers of the film Injustice will be launched at the event, featuring music, spoken word and poetry, and will include Yaz's This World track. Yaz has some other gigs lined up including a session at the Ipanema Bar in Broad Street, Birmingham on Sunday, 17 September, and an appearance at the African Heritage Arts Day in Birmingham City Centre on Saturday 21 October.

This coming Saturday (9 September), Birmingham's finest reggae sons, Steel Pulse, will be meeting and greeting the public as they take part in the grand re-opening of the Handsworth Public Library at 2pm. The day begins at 10am and continues until 4.30pm including various workshops for all ages. Handsworth is the district where the band members went to school and grew up. Saturday also sees the annual Birmingham Arts Festival and later that evening, at around 9.30pm, Gabbidon will take to the stage in Centenary Square with their fusion of reggae, rock and ska.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Making A Difference - Hanuman & Camcaf

Two organisations that have recently taken up the challenge to make a real difference to the underprivileged and impoverished in Cambodia are my old friends at Hanuman Tourism and The Cambodian Children’s Advocacy Foundation. Hanuman, already well-established as a top provider of tourism services in Cambodia, have now set up a charitable body called The Hanuman Foundation to support grass-roots anti-poverty programmes in the more remote areas that their tours visit. They plan to concentrate on the fundamentals first, providing access to cleaner water for communities by drilling wells and supplying water filters, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as malaria through the provision of mosquito nets and improving the quality of materials in remote local schools. They will focus on communities in Preah Vihear and Siem Reap provinces initially, as well as initiatives to assist the disadvantaged ethnic minorities of the northeast, including the Pnong people of Mondulkiri and the Jarai of Ratanakiri. Hanuman also plan to work with a selected group of NGOs and have chosen a combination of causes to ensure they assist in areas such as healthcare, education, child welfare, landmine clearance, heritage preservation and the promotion of arts and culture, working with their partners to make tourism a force for positive change in Cambodia. To find out more about Hanuman's plans, click here.

Meanwhile, The Cambodian Children’s Advocacy Foundation (CCAF) is a grass-roots Khmer NGO established earlier this year by Hing Channarith, a former Country Director of Veterans International for the past decade. The primary mission of the CCAF is to support the children of single mothers in the areas of schooling and education, intervention and the prevention of child labor and trafficking. In addition, the nutrition and health of these children must be improved and skills developed to enable mothers and their children to generate an income for their families. The same support will also be given to children with disabilities. Early successes have included the provision of water sanitation and mushroom-growing projects. The pilot target area is currently the Banteay Meas district and in Kampot province. You can find out more about CCAF here.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Images of the Gods

Vittorio Roveda's latest publication, Images of the Gods, is an impressively comprehensive undertaking which presents the author's own meticulous research into the meaning and messages of the vast array of Khmer motifs and myths portrayed in the temples of Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. On lintels, pediments, statues and in bas-relief, the lives and legends of Hindu gods, adopted and transformed from Indian sources and Buddhist themes, come to life. And in this encyclopedic tome, Roveda examines those themes in rich detail.

An expert commentary of the Hindu myths is presented in sections on Vishnu, Krishna, the Mahabharata, Rama and Shiva. The lives of lesser gods and deities like Brahma, Ganesha, Garuda, Indra, Rahu, Yama and Hanuman are explained. The majority of reliefs illustrate mythological and religious narratives, some dealing with real life events such as battle scenes and royal processions, others show scenes of daily life and tapestry reliefs with floral motifs and figures. Decorative elements on lintels, walls, pilasters and door-frames include apsaras and devatas, dvarapalas, kalas and makaras and free-standing sculpture such as nagas and lion guardians. In addition, the Buddhist legends reveal sacred text from the Jatakas and the life of Buddha, as well as the cult of Lokeshvara, most famously celebrated at Banteay Chhmar and other temples built by Jayavarman VII.
In the second part of the book, this incredible array of visual narratives are described and illustrated as they appear at over 100 Khmer temples at different locations throughout Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. In each section of the book, Roveda includes numerous photographic examples to accompany his descriptions and to enable readers to identify the myths for themselves. In fact, no less than 2,400 colour images are included in the text and on a supplemental DVD. River Books of Bangkok published the book earlier this year, it has 544 pages, and is an essential companion for anyone with more than a passing interest in Khmer mythology and symbolism.
Roveda is currently collaborating with Dawn Rooney on a guidebook to the temples of Cambodia, that'll cover both Angkor and beyond, a book that will benefit from both authors' insatiable love and respect for Khmer history. For more on Vittorio Roveda, click here.

O'Reilly examines early Cambodia

A new publication called Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia will be released in November and will contain an analysis of the prehistoric societies and events that shaped the Southeast Asia region in ancient times. Its written by HeritageWatch Director Dougald O'Reilly and is to be published by AltaMira Press. The book examines the proto-historical cultures of Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. O'Reilly's interest in this subject began while he was earning his doctorate from New Zealand's University of Otago, where he focused his dissertation on the Bronze and Iron Ages in Thailand. As a UNESCO lecturer at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh - and later as Director of Heritage Watch - he has continued this study by excavating major Iron Age sites in Cambodia such as Phum Snay and Wat Jas. Over the next three years, O'Reilly (pictured) will further investigate this era in Cambodian history with the University of Sydney. Regrettably, such research grows more difficult by the day as Bronze and Iron Age sites are being looted and destroyed at an unprecedented rate throughout Southeast Asia - a fact highlighted by HeritageWatch at their website.

Sage - supporting kids in Siem Reap

Brit Andy Booth lives in Italy with his family and like so many before and after him, fell in love with Cambodia on his first visit. He was so impressed with the professionalism of his guide on that trip that he joined forces with Siem Reap-based guide Phalla Chan, to form Sage Insights, a travel company with a difference. They pride themselves on providing a quality service tailor-made for their customers, whilst giving half of their profits to the Sage Foundation, a charitable trust focusing on providing education for orphans, street kids and children from the poorest families. You can read more about Sage Insights here. Taking time out from visiting his parents nearby, I spent this afternoon with Andy at the Gloucester versus Bath rugby match where the talk was all about Cambodia rather than the rugby.