Cambodian Daughter Brings Music and Malaria Messages to Hometown
CONTAINMENT’s Moeun Chhean Nariddh caught up with Dengue Fever’s Chhom Nimol in Battambang.
“Oh, oh, oh, Chumno kadeuk oi own neuk srok, neuk dol yeay ta, mingmear, pa’own bong…Yeung thloip roth leng trosorng, eilov nuon la’orng khleath tov sen chhnay. Oh, oh, oh…
“Oh, oh, oh, winter breeze makes me miss my home town, miss my grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. We used to go for a walk together, but now I am far away from you. Oh, oh, oh…”
Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol of the Dengue Fever begins to sing the first few lines of her newly recorded song “Uku” without music at the request of a journalist from in the studio of Battambang’s National Radio of Kampuchea before her scheduled performance in the evening.
“I used to have malaria in the refugee camp … I was shivering and it was hard for me to endure the fever and chills…”
With or without music, her voice can easily draw attention from the keen audience and listeners through sound waves that travels hundreds of kilometers away from the studio and the open-air live concert.
What makes her performance in Battambang special is that the sound waves not only carry her beautiful voice to the audience, but they also bring along messages about malaria to many people most at risk of getting the disease in remote areas along Cambodia’s common border with Thailand.
On November 16, Nimol was giving her third performance in Cambodia to Battambang after Kampot and Siem Reap provinces as the front-lady for the Dengue Fever band – a popular US west coast Khmer-American psychedelic rock band. Dengue Fever’s trip to the Mekong region is sponsored by the US Embassy to bridge cultural ties between Cambodia and the United States.
Noting the important occasion and the popularity of the music band, USAID-funded University Research Co., LLC, or URC, had approached the music concert organizers and asked for malaria messages to be read during the event.
“This is a very rare occasion that the Dengue Fever has come to perform in Battambang,” said Kharn Lina, URC’s communications specialist. “Many people in the audience who watched the performance might be working in the malaria-affected areas and could take the messages back to their relatives and friends.”
She said that the recent floods in Cambodia made it even more crucial for people to get enough information and knowledge about how to protect themselves and to get treatment for malaria since there could be more mosquitoes that transmitted the disease to people.
For Nimol, malaria is an illness that will always stay in her mind.
“I used to have malaria in the refugee camp,” she recalls. “I was shivering and it was hard for me to endure the fever and chills when I was young.”
She said it was very important that people sleep in insecticide treated nets so that they could protect themselves from getting malaria.
Nimol said she had spent one year with her family in the refugee camp on the border with Thailand before returning to Battambang in 1992, to resume her education at junior high school level. Cambodia then was under the administration of the United Nations following the end of a 12-year proxy-civil war where battlelines were drawn on then Cold War rivalries. After three years, she said she went to Phnom Penh and continued her studies for another two years.
With encouragement from Chhom Chorvin, her elder sister who was also a singer, Nimol said she started to learn to sing old songs from the 1960s and 1970s by the late Cambodian singers.
Though she was a new singer, Nimol’s voice hadn’t gone unnoticed.
In 1997, she said she decided to register in a song contest organized by Apsara TV in Phnom Penh and won first prize as the best female singer.
She was 16 years old then.
In 2001, she went to the United States and performed at a Cambodian restaurant in Long Beach with her elder sister.
Then, her golden opportunity arrived.
Nimol said Dengue Fever was looking for Cambodian singers at different restaurants in California and they finally came to the Dragon House Restaurant, where she was singing.
“[Dengue Fever] became interested in my voice and body movements,” she said with a smile.
Dengue Fever then invited her to join the band.
In addition to the old songs and music, Nimol said she had also composed new songs like “Uku” herself with help from her American band-mates who composed the music.
“I just do ‘noy, noy, noy’ and they will come up with the music,” she said.
Nimol said she had performed in many countries in Europe apart from the US. However, she said her chance to return and perform in Battambang was just like a dream.
“For me, I am very happy. I just can’t tell you how excited I am,” she said as the cool dry wind started to blow outside, signalling a change in the usual hot humid weather.