Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Musicians of the National Dance Company of Cambodia: Homrong

All praise to Peter Gabriel for founding Real World Records and putting out a slew of great recordings from musicians from around the world.  An example picked up on cassette by this blogger in the early 90s was the excellent and timely Homrong by the Musicians of the National Dance Company of Cambodia.

Years passed and the recording was forgotten until very recently when a conversation with a hairstylist from Cambodia stirred memories of having this great album nearly a quarter-century before.  So, a CD version was acquired recently and it was fantastic getting to rediscover this gem.

Gabriel and his cohorts released this album to not only spotlight Cambodian music, but to heighten awareness of the tragedies wrought upon its people by the phenomenally brutal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  This adds a degee of poignancy to the recording, which is full of wonderful and beautiful music, encompassing orchestral, special event and folk stylings.

Some of the folk tunes almost have a bluesy feel to them, especially the opening track "Breu Peyney" and "Nor Khor Reach," both anchored by excellent lute-like playing and a particularly-enthralling vocalizing by a female singer on the former and a male on the latter.

Also a standout is the excellent "Luok Phsar", featuring a keening wind instrument, percussion, and a nicely-harmonized vocal ensemble working with a beautiful melody.  Similar is "Leng Suan" which has another distinctive vocal and melodic concept.  The title track is a religious piece with a fine male vocal, a pair of wind instruments, one in reedy higher register than the one that is more in the background at a lower register.

"Tep Monorom Dance" is carried along by its wind instruments, percussion and, especially, the stately vibraphone, which also feature in "Preah Chinnavong."  Speaking of stately, that aptly describes the gorgeous "Tropangpeay," which moves along at a leisurely pace and has fine melodic statements by its dual wind instruments.

Percussion is a dominant instrument along with a single wind instrument in "Bohrapha," which also has a great male lead vocal with group backing--this is another highlight on the record, especially the ululating-like trills offered in the piece.

A delicate and emotive lullaby sung by a woman is a gorgeous and apt way to conclude this remarkable recording, showing so much of a cultural revival that started in the 1980s and was still underway when the album was released.

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