News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 9 to 10 a.m.

'Cambodian Rock Band' spotlights the psychedelic sounds before the Khmer Rouge era





Listen to story

05:08
Download this story 4.0MB

People don't often consider how Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime impacted the country’s once-vibrant rock music scene, but playwright Lauren Yee’s new performance explores that very relationship.

Lauren Yee

The show Cambodian Rock Band combines theater and live music composed by the band Dengue Fever to tell the story of a Cambodian American family and their relationship to this musical history. Its world premiere begins at South Coast Repertory next week. Take Two contributor Quincy Surasmith spoke with Yee about how she came to connect these two very different legacies.

Cambodian Rock Band will be performed at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County.
Cambodian Rock Band will be performed at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County.
Quincy Surasmith

To any outsider who doesn’t really know the history of Cambodia, the idea of genocide and psychedelic surf rock would not seem to fit together, but they do.

Yee was commissioned by South Coast Repertory to write a new play about any topic she could research around Orange County. She arrived in the middle of Anaheim’s Cambodian Music Festival, a Dengue Fever concert, and the annual Cambodia Town fundraiser. Yee was quickly drawn to the story of Cambodia’s rock music as the subject of her play.

Dengue Fever created the music for the new South Coast Rep play, Cambodian Rock Band.
Dengue Fever created the music for the new South Coast Rep play, Cambodian Rock Band.
Lauren Yee

When the Khmer Rouge came into Cambodia and took over the country, it was not only the people that we lost, but also all the incredible music that these people had created. The play is really trying to give you a sense of that loss and what these people might have created, had they lived longer.

For actor Joe Ngo, a Chinese-Cambodian American from Monterey Park, the play and its music has allowed him to explore his own family’s history. The song “Chnam Oun Dop Pram Muy (I’m Sixteen)” particularly resonated with him.

Cambodian Rock Band is a new play about music during the Khmer Rouge era of Cambodia.
Cambodian Rock Band is a new play about music during the Khmer Rouge era of Cambodia.
Quincy Surasmith

I brought it to my mom…and she was like, ‘Oh my god, that is my childhood song!’ She immediately started singing to it and knew almost every word to it.

Cambodian Rock Band runs at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa from March 4-25.