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Traveling to Cambodia for the first time is an eye-opener. The average western has likely never seen poverty on this level–and on top of that, a tragically huge number of people continue to be killed or injured by land mines (set mostly by the Khmer Rouge, but some likely left over from the Vietnam War era). People with missing limbs are everywhere, many left with no choice but to beg on the street. Some, though, are finding ways to get around their handicap–including music.
Walking around the temples at Angkor Wat, I came across three different disabled-musician bands, each performing traditional Khmer folk music for passing tourists. They sold CDs for $8 and $10 (I bought a couple), and the music (all acoustic) was pretty interesting–not the stuff you’d put on during a dinner party or to soothe yourself to sleep, but plenty raw, earthy, intense. The songs on the CDs are a bit simple and repetitive, but the sound is like nothing I’ve heard.
I had high hopes for catching some great local music while in Thailand over the holidays. I’d heard a lot about what they call “Thai country music,” which is really a rough and rowdy brand of homemade rock ‘n’ roll called Molam that’s from the Isan region (northeast of the country). Never found any, as luck would have it. However, I did catch a few minutes of of this awesome blind guy (see photo), who was walking down Silom Rd in Bangkok, strumming an electrified four-string guitar (with only one string). 20 baht got me two photos and a 30 second listening session.