Why I love playing with the Mekong Messengers
They say that the only way to get really good at playing music is to play with people at a higher experience or skill level than yourself. I completely agree, which is why I love playing with the Mekong Messengers. Let me tell you a little bit about the players in this band:
ALL PICTURES BY STEVE PORTE
Lead Vocals: Kristen Rasmussen
Have you heard her sing? Let me save a few hundred words trying to explain Kristen’s vocal range, power and phrasing and just come and hear her sing at our next gig! She is from the U.S. but has spent most of her life in Asia. She had her first taste of fame as a child on a Singporean talent show. She is a classically trained professional singer but chose to pursue a different career as a ‘day-job’. The band Mekong Messengers is her labour of love and her passion in Phnom Penh. She loves ‘Americana’ music. She can reduce grown men to tears with her tender renditions of soul ballads and she can make an entire room full of people spontaneously get up and dance when she hits a big rock’n’roll number.
Lead Guitar: Pavel ‘zargz’ Ramirez
Pavel is a completely dedicated musician. Every waking hour of his life is spent walking down the road of musical excellence. He has a huge depth of knowledge of the guitar fretboard and spends his days figuring out melodies, hooks and riffs. He spends his nights in the bars and restaurants of Phnom Penh entertaining all-comers with his latest tricks. Pavel loves the classic rock, pop and Latin music of the 1960’s and 1970’s. His guitar style is very smooth, easy-on-the-ear, melodic and sympathetic. Unlike many ‘expert’ guitar players, he is not stingy with his knowledge – every time I play with Pavel, I learn something.
Bass Guitar: ‘Ten’ AKA ‘Millenium’
Ten comes from a very musical family. His older brothers are in the premier Cambodian rock band ‘Cartoon Emo’. This may go some way to explaining why Ten is very modest about his prodigous bass guitar-playing ability. I challenge you to listen to him during a Mekong Messengers gig and identify even one note played out-of-time. His nimble fingers can play high-speed rock and and funk licks that most bass players couldn’t manage with a high-density pick and a dose of salts. Not that he needs to play all that ‘fancy’ stuff in the Mekong Messengers, where his role his mostly to lock in with rhythm guitar and drums and keep the groove going.
Drums: ‘Tip’ Kim
Another full-time pro on the Cambodian music scene, ‘Tip’ is a drummer in demand – travelling up and down the country playing the big outdoor shows and studio productions that you see every day on Cambodian television. I’m not quite sure how he manages to fit in monthly Mekong Messengers shows alongside all his TV work and other gigs but he does it with consumate ease! A very versatile drummer, he has every song scored out and prepared on paper before the show. It is easy for him to turn from funky breakbeats to Latin rhythms to Khmer romvong at the drop of a hi-hat… and, most importantly for the rockabilly songs of the Mekong Messengers, he can play a mean ‘train’ beat!
My job is to chunk out some chords somewhere in-between Ten (bass) and Pavel (lead guitar), add a little backing vocals to Kristen’s (lead vocals) choruses and move around a little bit to Tip’s beats (I wouldn’t call it dancing). It’s not a difficult job because the other players are so good at what they do. In fact, they actually make me look good. Sometimes, they will throw me a solo or let me sing a song just for a bit of fun. I love playing with The Mekong Messengers!
ALL PHOTOS BY STEVE PORTE, captured at Sharky Bar on the 18th of March 2016.
The Mekong Messengers play Sharky Bar each month and appear at other venues around Phnom Penh.
The Mekong Messengers will play ‘Blue Moon Night‘ at Le Moon Terrace Bar this Friday the 8th April, at 7pm.