Durian – a Funk Band in the Pocket, on the Grind
Finding an ex-pat funk band that named themselves “Durian” — in of all
places Phnom Penh, Cambodia — is pretty far-out there. Especially
with Cambodia’s recent genocide still unresolved, land mines dotting the rural areas, and wide-spread poverty, it came as a total surprise to me
that Phnom Penh hosts one of the largest ex-pat communities in
Southeast Asia and is a center for art and music.
“The effect durian the fruit has on your nose is the same effect we want
when our music enters your ears,” explained the enthusiastic band
manager and bass player, Chris Rompre, when I asked him why they decided
to name their band after the notorious fruit. “You might not like it,
but you won’t forget it. It’s the epitome of what we want to do.”
“Durian” is a newcomer to the music scene, and is quickly becoming one
of the most popular shows in Phnom Penh. The eight-member band, which in addition to the standard guitar, bass and drum, features a trumpet, trombone, two saxophones, and a throaty female vocal, mostly plays covers of popular funk bands from the United States. Rob and I met up with them just
before their show at the Latin Quarter, a Spanish-themed restaurant. I couldn’t imagine a better blend of incongruities: a bunch of Europeans, Americans and Australians listening to the African-American inspired music of a band named after a Southeast Asian fruit all set in a posh Latino-decor bar, not to mention the improbable location. The band was crowded around two tables pushed together on the outdoor patio, chowing down steaks. The bar was busy when we arrived, with limited seating and people standing around sipping cocktails.
Chris laughed when I pointed out the band’s rising notoriety in Phnom Penh. “We really want the audience to have an amazing experience – to totally let go of everything and just dance. But none of us are full time professionals or anything. Anywhere else in the world we would be nobody.”
Not everyone in the eight-member band was in favor of the name, inspired
by Chris. One member of the band was especially into car-parts,
suggesting names like “Carburetors”.
“We had like a hundred thousand
names,” said Graeme Cunningham, guitarist. “I said, let’s just throw every crazy name down.
I thought that would really get the brain juice flowing, spark
creativity. And it did. Chris came up with “Durian.”
“I just love the symbolism of the durian,” Chris enthused. “It’s powerful, raunchy, funky. It gets your attention.”
Justin Ringsat, trumpet, made a face as Chris described the durian. An English teacher in Kampot, a major durian growing region, Justin comes into contact with durian often and describes himself as “not a fan” of the durian’s often overpowering odor.
So does Durian like to eat durian?
The group took a vote, for and against the durian. It came to five out of eight
love durian, two who like it “okay”, and Justin’s reticent “eh.”. “Let me do the math
on that,” said Graeme, whipping out his phone and typing vigorously.
“62.5% of Durian likes durian. There you go.”
At Graeme’s last words, the group started moseying into the main room to start the show. Rob and I hung around as the population of the room became denser and denser. I had never been knowingly exposed to the funk genre before, and really enjoyed the music, especially the trombone. Before we left, we put a token gift on the stage: a durian. We weren’t sure how the bar would feel about an actual durian entering the facility, but we thought it was an appropriate gesture.
For more information on Phnom Penh’s Durian Funk Band, you can visit their facebook page.