1. Dengue Fever, the disease, “is manifested by a sudden onset of fever, with severe headache, muscle and joint pains (myalgias and arthralgias—severe pain gives it the name break-bone fever or bonecrusher disease) and rashes. The dengue rash is characteristically bright red petechiae and usually appears first on the lower limbs and the chest; in some patients, it spreads to cover most of the body. There may also be gastritis with some combination of associated abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Other symptoms include: bladder problems; constant headaches; severe dizziness; and uncontrollable laughing,” according to Wikipedia. Dengue Fever, the band, has never had this effect on people — except maybe the ‘uncontrollable laughter.’
2. Dengue Fever is a comprised of five caucasian Americans — two with VERY long beards — and a Cambodian chanteuse named Chhom Nimol who pick up where the golden age of Cambodian pop — a heady transcontinental hybrid of western psych-pop and surf-rock and Eastern traditional music that flourished in the late 60s and early 70s — left off.
3. When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, the regime instituted a brutal and murderous cultural crackdown on anything smacking of Western influence. The educated class — specifically doctors, lawyers and teachers — were rounded up along with intellectuals, writers, musicians and artists and sent to ‘re-education camps’ in the jungles where most perished. It is estimated that 1.5 million, or 1/5 of the country’s population, was exterminated during the Khmer Rouge’s bloody five-year reign.
4. Among those arrested and executed by the Khmer Rouge was two of Cambodia’s biggest pop stars: Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea. It is said that the Khmer Rouge took pop stars deep into the jungle, stripped them naked and made them walk in circles under the brutal sun, singing their ‘decadent’ songs over and over until they died of heat exhaustion. Dengue Fever covers many of the songs of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea.
5. When the Khmer Rouge took over, Chhom Nimol’s family fled to neighboring Thailand and took up residence in a refugee camp. In the confusion, Nimol’s sister was left behind. For months, the family wondered if she was alive, until one day they heard her on the Cambodian national radio station, singing patriotic songs in honor of the Khmer Rouge, under threat of death. Years later, Nimol came to California where she came to the attention of the Holtzman brothers, who were just back from a lengthy sojourn to East Asia and eager to form a band that recreates the exotic sounds they encountered there. Shortly 9/11, after performing in San Diego, the Dengue Fever tour van got pulled over at an immigration checkpoint on their way back to Los Angeles. Because Nimol’s visa was expired she was taken into custody and held in a detention facility for 22 days and nights. After the Los Angeles musician community rallied with a series of fundraisers, the band was able to get Nimol adequate legal representation which secured her release along with a work visa. These days Dengue Fever’s luck seems to be turning. On the heels of soundtrack appearances in Jim Jarmusch‘s Broken Flowers and the TV show Weeds, Dengue signed to Peter Gabriel‘s Real World label. The band is currently on a tour in support of the newly-minted Cannibal Courtship that will wrap with an appearance at the Ray Davies-curated Meltdown. — JONATHAN VALANIA