It’s Contagious! Cambodia’s Buzzing About Dengue Fever’s Return

The infectious strains of Dengue Fever–the Los Angeles-based psychedelic rock group whose music draws its influence from Khmer pop icons of the 1960s such as Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serysothea–are set to rock audiences once again this weekend as the band returns to Cambodia for the first leg of their “Electric Mekong” regional tour.

The band’s heady mix of Californian surf rock-flavored riffs and trippy psychedelic beats coupled with female lead singer Chhom Nimol’s haunting Khmer and English vocals have proved popular with Cambodian audiences before, with their last Phnom Penh show in May 2010 selling out entirely.

On their third visit to the country that serves as their musical muse, the band will be playing two gigs in Phnom Penh and one show in Siem Reap, as well as putting on free concerts in Battambang, Kampot and Takeo provinces. They will then continue on to play venues in Vientiane and Hanoi.

Dengue Fever’s tour follows the release of their latest album, entitled “Cannibal Courtship,” in June and is part of the US Department of State’s Arts Envoy program-an initiative that allows American artists and musicians to travel the world promoting US culture.

The group’s 2010 tour was also organized by US Embassy in Phnom Penh to mark the sixtieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and the US. Dengue Fever is an undoubtedly good choice for this kind of soft-diplomacy given the strong links the band already has to this country.

The eclectic group was the brainchild of Khmer-pop aficionados-brothers Ethan (keyboard) and Zac Holtzman (guitar), who started the group in 2001 after meeting Chhom Nimol, the group’s Cambodian-born vocalist, who was living in Long Beach’s “Little Phnom Penh” at the time.

In fact, Nimol–whose figure-hugging silk dresses and sparkly costume jewelry add some old-school glamour to the rest of the group, whose beards and spectacles make them look more beatnik than rock star-has links to Khmer pop royalty. According to a New York Times article from 2008, her father was a wedding singer who once sung with Sinn Sisamouth.

“Obviously, the band’s roots are in Khmer rock, so there is an immediate connection to our fans in Cambodia,” a press statement issued ahead of the tour by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh quoted guitarist Zac Holtzman as saying.

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