Dengue Fever Relishes Cambodian Homecoming

After 14 years on the road, re­turning to Phnom Penh still feels like a homecoming for Cambodian-American alternative rock group Den­gue Fever.

“As soon as you get out of Phnom Penh airport, there’s this special smell and I’m like, ‘Ah, I’m back,’” bassist Senon Williams said from Siem Reap City on Wednesday.

Dengue Fever (Dengue Fever)
Dengue Fever (Dengue Fever)

“It’s always beautiful to bring the mu­sic back here because we played our first show outside the United States in Phnom Penh in 2005. It’s really difficult to get the band here, so it’s a small victory every time we can make our way back,” he said.

About three years after their last visit, the band returned to Cam­bo­dia this week to play three concerts in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to promote their latest al­bum, “The Deepest Lake.”

The band—which formed in 2002 in Los Angeles when the group’s five original members met singer Chhom Nimol—experiments with a wide range of sounds on the self-released record, Mr. Williams said.

“Nimol mostly sings in Khmer, so that’s kind of where we find our Cambodian roots…but we play a lot of world music festivals, so we draw a lot of influence from Af­rican mu­sic, Latin music, Thai music, Bra­zil­ian music. Musically, we don’t really have any limitations,” he said.

The bassist conceded that the up­coming shows in Cambodia—at The Mansion on Friday and Sat­urday, following a performance in Siem Reap on Wednesday—will likely draw a crowd of mostly ex­patriates, unlike their gigs in the U.S. and Europe, which often at­tract members of the Cambo­dian diaspora.

“Where there are big Cambo­dian communities, it’s really incredible, be­cause entire families will make it an event of coming to our concerts. The grandma will be down with the kids, and if there’s a big Cambodian crowd, we always put on a few old­ies in the encore and just have people on stage,” he said.

However, during the band’s re­cent tours of Cambodia, enthusiasm for their music has been growing among locals, helped along by a re­surgence of interest in ’60s legends Sinn Sisamuth and Ros Serey­sothea, Mr. Williams said.

“It’s always changing, because a lot of the culture in Cambodia is starting to kind of mix and match and catch up…. There’s a lot more dancing and rocking out going on in concerts with the Cambodians,” he said.

Despite the band’s many years of success, Mr. Williams said he was still surprised by the band’s endurance.

“We keep pushing forward crea­tively, so as long as we’re creating new music and we can still share din­ner together, then there hasn’t real­ly been a reason to quit,” he said.

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