Young Khmer women with bouffant hairstyles shimmy as men in matching uniforms strum guitars and wail on the saxophone at the beginning of a trailer to a new documentary film about Cambodian rock and roll music.
In a montage of historical footage, the music briefly cuts out when the mid-1970s halt the party in its tracks, but the trailer for “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten (Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll)” quickly gets back to its real focus—the music and the people who made it.
“It sounds very familiar, yet at the same time it’s very unique,” director John Pirozzi said of his subject matter.
“Rock and Roll in the 60s, outside of the US and United Kingdom it was pretty uniformly bad,” he added. “Most people just didn’t get it, but Cambodians did.”
The trailer includes co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh praising Cambodian rock and roll from the 1960s, as well as interviews with Cambodian rock and roll artists from that era.
The pair have not completed their interviews, and hope the feature-length documentary will be released in about a year.
Bradley Bessire, co-producer of the documentary, which took its title from a Sin Sisamuth song, said filming is urgent because the surviving musicians are aging.
“They were leading their neighbors,” Bessire said. “Cambodian music was being exported to Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong, and now it’s the exact opposite.”
Although certain songs are still in regular rotation here, Pirozzi said it has been like a detective project to find archival footage and artists who recorded classic songs that are now often only found on bootleg CDs without even a track list.
Pirozzi and Bessire each began making similar films on the subject independently about three years ago, but decided to work together when they were introduced by Dengue Fever, a California-based band that covers Cambodian rock classics.
“Documentaries about Cambodia always start out, ‘in the 60s, Cambodia was the jewel of Southeast Asia, and then there was the Khmer Rouge,’ and then the film is about the Khmer Rouge,” Bessire said. “We want to show the jewel.”