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The Leng Pleng Gig Guide comes out on a Thursday or Friday of every week

Weekly Wrap - Commencing Thursday 22nd October 2015

‘city of flowers’ - just like home - pic: http://swallowtravel.com
How was your Pchum Ben holiday? One of the best things about living in Phnom Penh is… getting away from Phnom Penh. We love the vibrant and crazy city that was once known as ‘The Pearl of Asia’ but we do not love the daily commute through gridlocked traffic, the (sometimes) unbearable heat and the garbage building up on every street corner. It is good to take a break from the city once in a while.
I was fortunate enough to steal a few days away in Da Lat, Vietnam. Visiting the mountain resort town was like taking a trip to Northern Europe. The temperature sits between around 16 and 22 degrees. The air is noticeably fresh and free from dust or pollution. The city is teeming with flower beds and greenery. One can understand why the French colonialists designated Da Lat as one of their ‘Hill Stations’ – a resort with a clement climate for convalescing, recovery and relaxation – and why Vietnamese King Bao Dai chose Da Lat as the location for his Summer Palace.

It has been years since I have enjoyed breathing clean, cool, countryside air. The fresh, dewy mornings in the leafy environs of Dalat Train Villa were wonderfully reminiscent of waking up in a holiday house in the English Pennines – complete with cobbled stone walkways, pine trees and hydrangeas. Nighttimes (when a modestly warm coat might be necessary) were spent playing music at the V-Café and The Escape Bar. Classic Western rock’n’roll is the staple diet at these two venues, served up by talented resident singer-guitarist Reyman Robles, venue owner and multi-instrumentalist Curtis King and a rotating cast of visiting musicians. During my visit, I was lucky enough to hear septuagenarian folk-singer Rich Fuller. Rich is an amazing guy who seems to have visited every corner of the globe – and learned a song in every country he has been to. Originally from Baltimore, U.S.A., Rich Fuller is a fluent Vietnamese speaker and has lovingly translated many of the songs of legendary Vietnamese composer Trịnh Công Sơn into the English language. Check out the video above.

Hillbilly Soul: Wanderlusters at O’Brien’s pic: http://tnhvietnam.xemzi.com
Da Lat does not have quite the numbers of foreign tourists or expats to support a Western music scene on the same scale as Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC boasts a healthy number of live music venues with plenty of gigs to be found on any given night of the week. I asked a quorum of expat musicians to recommend the best places to hear live music. Davis Zunk has a Tuesday night residency at O’Brien’s bar with his ‘Hillbilly Soul’ trio The Wanderlusters. The band has a meticulously well-rehearsed repertoire of classic bluegrass and country-style songs played on guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin, with plenty of three-part harmonies. Davis let me know that Saigon Ranger is the hot new place to play at the moment. This opinion was echoed by Gabriel Kaouros, who plays dub-reggae and rock with his new band Mekong Delta Force (Gabriel used to play bass with the now-disbanded The Love Below). Saigon-based jazz singer Kerry Patterson agreed that Ranger have a great stage set-up for bands and a high quality sound system.

La Fenetre Soleil has regular gigs and a Sunday jam session –
pic: https://www.facebook.com/lafenetre.soleil.3

Kerry is a regular performer at the elegant La Fenetre Soleil – where she is often accompanied on the grand piano by superb pianists such as Rickie McIntosh. Gabriel described the venue as ‘a really beautiful space’. For larger gigs, he named Cargo as the number one place to play in Saigon: ‘they bring international acts but also have local events. Most of my bands have played there at some point or another and it's nice to play on a big stage like that with a good sound guy.’
There are many options for hearing low-key acoustic sets in Saigon. Davis let me know that The Boathouse ‘is cool for mellow riverside music’. Other acoustic venues include Universal Bar and DeciBel Lounge. Kerry also mentioned that Lubu restaurant (in District 2) has Flamenco music on Thursday nights, and BMV Pubgrill (on Quoc Huong Sreet, District 2) has live acoustic music on Friday nights. RFC Bar and Acoustic are two of the best-known venues in Saigon with a more Vietnamese-orientated, pop-rock band schedule. No round-up of live venues in Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without mentioning Saxnart Club – owned by the internationally recognised Vietnamese saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan – the place to visit for first-class live jazz music.

Chilling out at the Outcast – pic: https://www.facebook.com/saigonoutcast
Saigon Outcast is a very cool venue on the outskirts of town, with a lot of outdoor space for stalls and different activities. Outcast stages many cool, alternative and arts-orientated events. According to Mr Kaouros, The Observatory ‘is probably the best place in town for good DJs and some live electronic acts’. Gabriel also let me know that ‘two of the members from Tofu band (one of the best and oldest original local bands) have bought out Yoko bar and they will be reopening it and having a lot of live music there’.
Sounds like the scene is swinging in Saigon! Thanks to Gabriel, Kerry and Davis for all the info! Check out Timothy’s weekly gig guide below for all the latest happenings on the Cambodian music scene. 

Whatever you're up to over the next few days... stay safe out there and... see you around the traps!

 Joe Wrigley

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