Q&A: Cambodian rock star Jimmy Kiss

By: Logan Connor - Posted on: November 24, 2016 | Cambodia

Ahead of his performance at the International Jazz Festival Phnom Penh, Cambodian musician Jimmy Kiss sat down with Southeast Asia Globe to discuss his first foray into jazz and drawing inspiration from the Cambodian countryside

Jimmy Kiss
Photo: Steven Gargadennec

Jimmy Kiss is a Cambodian musician who rose to national fame in 2014 with his hit “Baby I’m Sorry”, a pop ballad produced in Phnom Penh. Given his soulful vocals, Jimmy’s style has drawn comparisons with acts including Lionel Ritchie, Tom Jones and Aerosmith. He has already begun touring internationally, with two US tours last year and a headlining show on Réunion Island with Phnom Penh-based reggae band Dub Addiction in 2014. Last December, he supported English pop star Jessie J when she played Phnom Penh as part of her Sweet Talker tour.

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Tell us about your involvement with the International Jazz Festival Phnom Penh.

I’ll be playing three songs there. It’s my first time with this kind of music… and I’m excited to be a part of it. I don’t have any experience with [jazz music] yet.

What kinds of songs will you be playing?

They want me to play some traditional Khmer songs, like Sinn Sisamouth. He’s a very famous singer [from] the past, before the Khmer Rouge. We had a lot of good songs, beautiful songs, then. So I will use those songs and will change the style to be jazz. Let’s see how it’s cool [laughs].

What’s it like playing with Dub Addiction? What kind of reaction do you get?

With Dub Addiction it’s really different than what I’m used to doing with the Khmer music scene here. It’s a new thing that lets me meet a lot of different people from different countries, playing and creating music together.

[The Dub Addiction concerts] put something free inside me… They do things that I’ve never seen before, but it’s something free. You can use anything that’s in your mind in the song – culture, Khmer instruments, all put together with that music style, reggae.

You spend a lot of time outside of Phnom Penh.

Yeah, I spend a lot of time out there because I’m also a musician and a composer. To be a composer, as you know, we need to see a lot of different things. We need to meet a lot of different people. So I had to travel to the province that I like, that I think nobody has seen yet. I go there and see what is different, then put it in the music.

How does being outdoors influence your music?

It adds something natural in the music, something real. I love things that make people emotional. When you go to the province outside of the city, you don’t hear much about the machine, the stress. You can hear natural things – birds, cows, rice fields, the wind from the leaves, things like that.

Some people who live in the jungle, they give me music that I’ve never seen before. They play it, and I hear it and think: ‘Wow, that’s so beautiful. I’m Khmer, but I didn’t know it.’ Then I want to put it into my music.

I put a lot of traditional Khmer [instruments] in the music, like horns. This is the reason why I go to the province. I find the instruments, and then I put them into the music and feel something new, something different.

You’ve got a very dynamic personal style. Do people find it strange in Cambodia?

Many people say that – it’s strange, it looks different from other things. But for me, I don’t know. I just do what I think is right.

The International Jazz Festival Phnom Penh will run from 12 – 15 December. For more information, contact ijf.phnompenh@gmail.com