Traditional stalwart Kheltica, a Phnom Penh-based folk band, offers an “entente chordial of musical traditions from France and the British Isles.” And they’re bringing their sound to the Mansion on 7 June, 2014.
It’s an eclectic mix of songs and dances from Brittany blended with traditional Irish and Scottish folk music is rivaled only by that of the band’s make-up: a singer and a mandolin player from Scotland; a British piper; Brazilian drummer; South African bass player; Malaysian pianist, and French flautists. “We had a Khmer violinist,” says Jean-Claude Dhuez, said flautist, “but since he got married, he’s disappeared!”
Bassist Andre Swart stopped by FCC to discuss the band and the upcoming show.
FCC: Who is Kheltica? How has the band evolved over time since it first started?
Andre: I joined in 2011 and I’ve been with the band three years now. This is the latest incarnation of Kheltica. The original one started in 2007/2008 with our flute player Jean-Claude. He’s the last standing member of the original band. It started off quite differently. It was an acoustic and small Celtic band. With the new band, it’s grown into a big ten-piece, composed of people that are all over the world. We cover all the continents, except Antarctica.
FCC: What’s your background? How’d you come to Cambodia?
Andre: I came in 2011 just looking for a change. I’m from South Africa. On my second night I was in Phnom Penh, I went to Score Bar and saw Kheltica play. Months later they posted an ad and I wrote in and joined the band. One of the major reasons I’m in Phnom Penh is because I joined the band. My original plan was Thailand, but once I started meeting people in the music scene, it sold Phnom Penh for me.
FCC: Talk about your life as a musician and your role in the band today.
Andre: I play bass guitar and guitar in the band. I had never heard Celtic music before. A lot of what we do is the French-Brittan side of music. In South Africa I’d never heard of it before. It’s kind of what attracted me to it in the first place. I wanted to try something new. It was challenging, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s like every style of music. Once you are familiar with the style and get into the groove of it, it’s pretty easy to know the songs.
FCC: What’s the history of Kheltica?
Andre: Jean-Claude is the band leader and he’s the original member/founder and he absolutely loves and lives for Celtic music. He’s not even from the Celtic part of France but he learned to play the flute because he loved Celtic music so much. A lot of people come into the band through him. He’s got a lot of friends in the French embassy. The French musicians come in and the embassy says “Hey, speak to Jean-Claude.” It’s more of a social club, more than just a band. Anyone who wants to come can come to our rehearsals on Wednesday[firstname.lastname@example.org]. It will never be a big money making band, but it’s not about the money, it’s about the social club feel.
FCC: Who are the band members currently?
- Jean Claude- Flute & Whistle
- Daniel- Flute
- Sarah- Whistle
- Tracy- Violin
- Angie- Piano
- Chris- Vocal & Guitar
- Andre- Bass & Guitar
- Toma- Bass & Drums
- Luis- Drums
FCC: Describe the “style” of Kheltica.
Andre: We play Celtic music, which stems from Ireland, Scotland, and into France and Brittany and northern Spain, which falls into the Celtic arch. We play music from all these parts. Just now we started to do Northern Spanish songs, because it’s got that Flamenco-Spanish flair to it. Celtic music is staying the same and changing all the time. We don’t stick to the traditional way that it’s played. A lot of it is our own interpretation, and depending on our instruments we have to play. Like any music or art form it’s always moving and changing, never standing still.
FCC: Where do you play in Cambodia?
Andre: We play everywhere. A big night is St. Patrick’s Day. This year we played at Paddy Rice. One year we did Paddy Rice and then FCC. That was a long day. Our audience is split up. We’ve played Irish weddings, Burns Night (haggis) Scottish, we played at Le Creperie for a French Celtic evening. We played a fundraiser on a boat. In the past Jean Claude organized a Celtival, where he brings a band over from France and they collaborate with local musicians. We put on shows at Wat Phnom’s outdoor stage. There might have been 2,000 people, locals and foreigners. We played and the band from France played. We’ve had a lot of really successful shows. We were also flown up by the French Cultural Institute of Laos in Vientiane for Fest Noz, a Brittan festival. They flew the whole band up for the weekend. Usually we play in Cambodia. We don’t gig that regularly. Maybe once or twice a month, depending on where we get shows, because it’s hard to get everyone together. It’s always a challenge. We never know who’s available to play.
FCC: What type of shows do you most enjoy?
Andre: I personally enjoy the smaller, more intimate shows we do. It captures the essence of the Celtic style. We’ve done quite a few shows completely unplugged, in places like Opera Cafe. We crammed the whole 9 or 10-piece band in Opera, where band members were playing at tables next to audience members. For me it’s always nice to play big crowds but I love the smaller shows we do where we connect with people and can play and talk with people in between them.
FCC: What do you like most about life and music in Phnom Penh?
Andre: Phnom Penh has a unique music scene. What I’ve found in other places is that there’s always the cliques of musicians, where if you’re not part of those musicians you can’t play in those venues and with those musicians. But with musicians here it’s very open. I’ve played music before but here it’s like a World Music University. Even here we have a Brazilian drummer, a Malaysian piano player, two French flutists, a whistle player from the UK, a Scottish singer . . . just in Kheltica, I’m playing with people from all over the world, exposed to styles and rhythms and ideas of music that in my own country I’d never in a million years come across. Come here and you stumble on a whole world of music. You can learn much here, grow in any direction you’d like.
I play in quite a few bands. Grass Snake Union, Joe Wrigley and the Jumping Jacks, and I also play with Mwauka and the Gang, as part of “the gang.” I play in a Chinese band too, Malaysian Chinese. The lady who plays piano in Kheltica, and her husband and two daughters all play music. We played at Koh Pich City Hall, a wedding, just a few shows around. Sometimes it’s high pressure. Like I said, it’s World Music University. If you’re willing to jump in the deep end you’ll learn anything.