Ready for something different? How about a band from Los Angeles that blends Cambodian music and California rock and roll? They’re called Dengue Fever and have a fervent following among hipsters and Cambodian immigrants. At SOUND TRACKS, we can’t get enough of them either. Whether it’s lead singer Chhom Nimol’s haunting voice, their “Twin Peaks” atmospherics, or the band’s dreamy mix of surf guitar, smoking saxophone and psychedelia, Dengue Fever is unique and unforgettable.
They are ironic enough to have named themselves after a mosquito-born disease and funny enough to recall groups like the B-52s. But they also have a mission: to resurrect Cambodian music crushed by the Khmer Rouge and re-invent it for the 21st century. They’re cultural ambassadors with a trippy, edgy sound and a new album, “Cannibal Courtship.”
Another song performed by Dengue Fever for “Quick Hits” in a back hallway at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, “Gendjer Gendjer” is about Indonesia, not Cambodia. According to guitarist Zac Holtzman (who formed the band with his brother, Ethan, the keyboardist), the song was originally written during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World World II when food was so scarce that people resorted to eating Gendjer, a weed that grew in rice fields.
The song re-surfaced in the 1960s in Indonesia when there was a violent military coup and government crackdown on communists and ordinary citizens – a period of political turmoil dramatized in the movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously.” “Anyone caught listening to or singing ‘Gendjer Gendjer’ was considered an enemy of the government,” says Zac.