Photograph of Christopher Minko by Jonathan van Smit
Christopher J. Minko was born in Australia in 1956, a child of European refugees and grew up outside a small Victoria bush town. From an arts and major event management background he spent a decade working for various Australian artistic and educational organizations, including the Moomba Festival and the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. He also served as events director for the Australian Football League’s Grand Final, the nation’s largest annual sporting event. Minko first came to Cambodia in 1996 as a technical advisor for the Cambodian Disabled Peoples Organisation, and went on start Cambodian Disability sport programs. In 2003, he founded the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), which has become a model for sport and rehabilitation, and has also begun a countrywide wheelchair-racing program.
Minko and I have a mutual goal of bringing the Cambodia Women’s National Wheelchair basketball team over to Bangkok to play a Thai National team.
Christopher Minko is the lead man for the Cambodian noir band Krom, which made a historic three venue debut in Bangkok, Thailand in December of 2014. Krom strive towards originality at all times, they work acoustically and have the objective to establish a musical genre called contemporary Mekong Delta Blues, based on the merger of Delta Blues guitar work with the magic and mysticism of Khmer vocal sounds. Krom is unique on many levels, one of them being that they are a bilingual band, Khmer and English.
Thailand Footprint is pleased to have Christopher Minko back today to discuss, among other things, his new song Taliban Man.
KC: Christopher, welcome back for a second interview at Thailand Footprint. Our last interview went two parts and ended up in a couple of newspapers in Thailand and Cambodia. Lets see where this one goes. Today’s interview will be short, sweet and sour. You can’t escape sour in many Krom songs. And that’s putting it mildly. Taliban Man is no exception. It’s your latest release. Tell me where the inspiration came from and how long Krom worked on the song creatively once you had the lyrics down?
CM: Probably enough love songs floating about out there mate and someone has to do the dirty work and sing the songs that tell of the very sad reality of; it’s a mighty fucked up world out there at the moment and that we need to speak out or sing more about the grave social injustices and horrendous levels of violence and slavery that are enveloping this world.
It is the historical role and responsibility of the musical troubadour to write and sing about these issues, so in a world dominated by plastic mind numbing music and with very few troubadours left, that’s what Krom does (acknowledging author Christopher G Moore for that last reference to the role of the troubadour).
All KROM songs come from the heart – Like that master songwriter Willie Nelson said in a recent interview –“he doesn’t know where the songs come from – they just appear from somewhere (one doesn’t ask where…) and when they do appear in this unexplained way you make sure you damn well follow through with them” – I find similar – they fall into the Minko head (often unannounced) and in fact one is slightly tortured until they get recorded otherwise the song just keeps going around in the head which is not a good thing after a few days.
So with Taliban man – I am the father of a now 21 year old daughter whom I raised on my own and of course I dearly love my daughter and am proud of her successes and growth into a confident woman – so I am a parent –When I heard of the Taliban massacre of the Pakistani schoolchildren – It somehow belted the shit out of me; the tragic and utterly insane concept of adults murdering innocent children is, for me, the ultimate act of cowardice and somewhere in the equation I see humanity as sliding downwards into an abyss of no morality covered by a cesspool of blood and I am horrified that humanity can stoop so low with such acts of violence – The level of violence and selfishness that is swallowing the globe, deeply disturbs me along with the increasing use of children in warfare – so all of a sudden the following lines came into my head.
“Yeah, I’m the man
I’m a Taliban Man
I shoot little children
In the head
Ah gotta make sure
That they are dead”
….and from there came the song Taliban man
And it became, like so many Kromsongs; “a song that has to be sung.”
KC: The song opens with laughter and gunfire. Tell the story of Taliban Man to our readers as a lyricist might and then in broader fashion – how it could be interpreted by different listeners.
CM: Very simple / very blunt – Taliban man describes the ultimate act of cowardice carried out by so called “men” who slaughtered 165 Pakistani schoolchildren – Adults killing Children ! – a senseless, brutal violent act of pure cowardice and the horror of this tragedy is described within the lyrics – the lyrics are very simple and are meant to be that way – To the point – for example
“A bullet in the chest
A broken breast
Her blood on the floor
Naked and raw”
Recognizing the complexity of the theme and the sensitivity of current global politics, I have included the below KROM statement about this song in order to avoid confusion or a misinterpretation of the song – however I very much stand by this song, as I repeat – It’s a song that needs to be sung and I do acknowledge that mockery is a very very powerful tool to campaign against violence in all its manifestations.
A KROM Statement: This KROM song is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of innocent children killed in war and civil conflict. The lyrics can be equally applied to the thousands of Jewish children gassed in Nazi concentration camps in WW2, to the multitude of children who died under the brutal regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the recent kidnapping of innocent children by Boko Haram and the innocent children currently being killed by US drone bombs in Afghanistan. Saddest of all is the recognition that even in the 21st Century, humanity continues to use innocent children as tools of war and civil conflict.
KC: The Bangkok Post journalist Alan Parkhouse wrote a great article with the headline Dark sounds from the Cambodian soul in the December 18th, 2014 edition, prior to your three Bangkok events. Tell me what the Bangkok concert dates were like for you and the other members of Krom and when can we expect Krom back in Bangkok?
CM: We had a fantastic time in Bangkok for many reasons, great venues, finally a listening and attentive audience and wonderful and very professional hosting of the band by the 3 venue operators. Most of all I felt that KROM came of age in Bangkok. The band were very cohesive, travelled well together and by the third night we were all on a true natural high as a result of the music being made and the many positive responses to the music of KROM. It was also a wonderful opportunity for the band to meet many of the Bangkok based authors such as yourself and James Newman and many others whom I was delighted to finally meet in person and it gave me the opportunity to thank all of our KROM friends in Bangkok who are supporting the creative endeavours of KROM. I was also very proud of and humbled at the historical nature of the gigs given that KROM are one of the first Cambodian contemporary bands to perform in Bangkok due to the lack of cultural exchange between Thailand and Cambodia as a result of decades of unwarranted and politically manipulated animosity between the 2 nations. The Khmer members of the band were greeted at all times with open arms and respect by all of the Thais within the audiences – a truly great trip indeed and we are looking at returning to Bangkok for a minimum of 3 nights of performances in May of this year.
KC: Salmon Rushdie in a May 11th, 2012 New Yorker article titled simply, “On Censorship” wrote the following:
“Great art, or, let’s just say, more modestly, original art is never created in the safe middle ground, but always at the edge. Originality is dangerous. It challenges, questions, overturns assumptions, unsettles moral codes, disrespects sacred cows or other such entities. It can be shocking, or ugly, or, to use the catch-all term so beloved of the tabloid press, controversial. And if we believe in liberty, if we want the air we breathe to remain plentiful and breathable, this is the art whose right to exist we must not only defend, but celebrate. Art is not entertainment. At its very best, it’s a revolution.”
Talk about your art in the terms that Rushdie discusses. And also specifically the whole concept of rocking the boat. There are those out there – and I am sure you know this – that say, you shouldn’t rock the boat. Tell us, again if you have to because it is important, why the boat needs to be rocked. And if you can discuss the recent Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris, France in those same terms please do so.
CM: Great question, great quote Mr. Kevin. Allow me to start this answer with quotes from three truly remarkable musicians who understood fully that original art is never created in a safe middle ground and there is no doubt that they also understood the responsibility they carried, not only in their lyrics but also in the quality of their musicianship and they knew that with both of these elements combined, pioneering works of powerful political musicianship were being created with their works revered to this very day.
From three great musicians:
“This machine kills fascists.”
“The world is filled with people who are no longer needed — and who try to make slaves of all of us — and they have their music and we have ours.”
“I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to heaven
You find no policeman there”
“Slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking.”
“I’m a real rebel with a cause.”
And a very important Q+ A with the legendary Pablo Casals. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90 and he answered:
“Because I think I’m making progress.”
Krom does rock the boat in a musical world now dominated by mediocrity and artists subservient to the mundane musical meanderings of corporate greed and the power of the political lyric has sadly been lost. Krom rock the boat quite deliberately. From the onset we set the objective to adhere to Pablo Casals advice in term of musicianship and to not hesitate to write lyrics about tragic social issues that often remain unspoken or only mentioned in a tokenistic sense when the world is now riddled with problems such as human and sexual slavery, being at the highest point ever in the history of humanity along with an ever increasing level of violence internationally including the murdering of thousands of innocent children as part of an accepted mechanism within warfare. Krom accepts its traditional role as the ancient troubadour: to observe and to write about life and sadly all its misery as we see it, and to be honest in that depiction with the hope that somewhere along the line the music and lyrics will assist to effect positive social change. The world does have the potential to be a remarkable place and there are truly inspiring individuals such as the recent Uruguayan president who resigned with a remarkable dignity and humility that is sadly missing in today’s world leaders. Krom does not seek to preach, we simply try to describe the world as it is, a world trapped in selfishness, greed, suffering and tragedy with problems that seem endless. Like Charlie Hebdo, Krom often use mockery within the lyrics as we recognize mockery’s power to counteract violence and social injustice.
Whilst our songs are often harsh and even brutal in their content we hope that Krom songs act as a catalyst for thought and that our music may assist the process of positive change “in a world where humanity has gone stark raving mad.” (From the Krom song, 7 Years Old – Her Body Sold). Even though our songs often ring of despair – Krom retains hope and please – don’t just listen to the words ( although we want you to !) – It’s also about the music as that’s what Krom is so Krom on!
KC: What’s the best way for our readers to support Krom by purchasing Taliban Man – where can we find it?
CM: In January 2015 Krom signed with Hong Kong’s Metal Postcard to promote sell and market Krom’s complete back catalogue and all future releases.
This is the statement from Sean Hocking the CEO and Founder of Metal Postcard Records:
Metal Postcard is thrilled to have Krom join the label. They are without doubt one of Asia’s most interesting and forward thinking acts tackling issues that you won’t be hearing any time soon in C, M , K or J pop songs ! We look forward to getting Krom recognition worldwide.
(You can check out Metal Postcard Records on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MetalPostcardRecord ).
[For a free download of the Krom song Don’t Go Away from BandCamp click here ].
KC: Thanks, Christopher for coming back to discuss the latest Krom happenings here at Thailand Footprint.
CM: Anytime, mate.
Follow Krom on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Krom-Phnom-Penh/214467175289003
And @KromSong on Twitter: twitter.com#!/KromSong
Official Krom website: www.themekongsessions.com