At Pacharan Tapas and Bodega, Phnom Penh’s preeminent Spanish restaurant, eager couples have turned the dining room into a dance floor.
Along with the aromas of sizzling Spanish tapas, infectious Latin grooves waft through the restaurant’s air, and the din of banging plates and clinking glasses join the melodious cacophony. Even the bartender is dancing.
“It’s so good for the soul,” says deejay Jimmy Campbell, the man responsible for the music. “I’m sure dancing releases some sort of chemical that brings happiness and joy.”
On a recent Thursday “Salsa Night,” Pacharan was dancing-room-only, and DJ Jimmy and two dozen other Salsa aficionados were savoring the euphoria.
Born during the 1950s heyday of the Cuban mambo craze, salsa eludes an easy definition.
Roots of the dance reach far and deep, and include not only the mambo, but also the Cuban danzon, son, and cha-cha, as well as the rumba, merengue and other Afro-Caribbean dances.
In addition to its vast musical influences, regional variations also help define Salsa’s cultural personas. In the US, for example, New York, Miami and Los Angles all claim distinct Salsa styles. Other countries, including Puerto Rico, Columbia and the Dominican Republic, also claim unique regional flavors.
At Pacharan for his second salsa night, Nuri Niyazi, a 31-year-old agricultural specialist from Austria, fell in love with that style of dance while working in southern Columbia.
“In Columbia, salsa is everywhere,” Niyazi says. “On the radio, on the bus, in the shops — everything you hear is salsa.”
His familiarity is apparent, and together with his partner Emelia Riog, the two light up the dance floor and dazzle onlookers all night.
“It’s so beautiful,” says Kate Liana, a writer and Pilates teacher from New York. “I wish I could dance like that.”
THE EDUCATION OF DJ JIMMY
Born in Scotland, Campbell spent two decades in Australia before making his way in 1994 to Cambodia, where he worked as one of the FCC’s earliest bar managers.
These days, in addition to being Phnom Penh’s Latin dance man, Campbell is involved with the Cambodian Homeless World Cup football team and the owner of Wholesale Wine, a small, independent wine seller.
Music, however, remains his passion, and his influences are as diverse as the music he plays.
“Soul, Motown, blues, jazz,” he says, rattling off a few favorites.
His parents were great music fans, he says, and while growing up, music was ever-present and dancing just came naturally. A friend in Australia turned him on to salsa about five years ago.
PHNOM PENH SALSA
Salsa in Phnom Penh was rare until just recently, and so learning new moves was difficult and practicing nearly impossible. So a few months ago, Campbell pitched the idea of a salsa night to Pacharan.
They planned the first night for June, and the evening went well enough that Pacharan asked Campbell to return in July. Many dancers who came in June also came back for the second event, and brought friends.
Pacharan was standing-room-only even before the dancing started, and the last of them stayed until long after the tables were cleared.
A SECOND SERVING
On the heels of the event’s success in July, Campbell and Pacharan are working on making salsa night a more permanent fixture on the restaurant’s monthly calendar.
A date has already been set for Aug. 20, and more dates are in the works for the coming months.
In addition to Pacharan, Campbell will play Talkin to a Stranger on Aug. 14, and the Riverhouse Lounge on Aug. 27.
“I love watching people dance,” Campbell says.