Original Reggae

Because reggae music is made with deep tone... to vibrate on!
Original Reggae

The Reggaefication of a Princess by Maia

Note: This was originally written and posted in October 2013.  Now, over 3 years later, Vibratone doesn’t play gigs anymore – mainly because four of us left Cambodia (though there is an album coming, I swear!).  Here, though, is the story of how it all began.
I've always loved music and singing; I grew up listening to a whole range of genres, from my parents' music from the 40s and 50s, to my older siblings' music from the 60s and 70s, and then my own interests from the 80s onwards, now bolstered by what my nieces and nephews are listening to (luckily they have good taste, not a Belieber in the bunch). I have to admit, reggae was never really in that list of genres; oh sure, everyone knew Bob Marley, and while I was in law school, a friend (Sonia, that's you), introduced me to the music of Steel Pulse.  But that was about it. So, no one could be more surprised than me to find that I'm now singing with and writing lyrics for a reggae band, Vibratone. How did this happen?
Well, I first met Ben (riddim guitar) last September or October; he was playing in a punk band at the Memphis.  He heard me sing, and asked if I wanted to join a reggae band. He said they were looking for a female singer, and he thought I'd be a good fit.  He also said that they had the music, but didn't have any lyrics, and was happy to hear that I had written some lyrics for a previous band.  I told him I hadn't really sung reggae before (except for the covers I do at the Memphis), but said yes, thinking, "why the hell not?"  It would be something different and challenging.I didn’t hear from Ben for weeks, and thought the project had fallen by the wayside, but he told Mel that they were practicing, and that it was still going to happen. 
Then in November, Ben sent a dozen reggae tracks for me to listen to, and maybe write lyrics for. I listened and listened, and for the life of me, didn’t know how to start writing. I couldn't figure out where the verses and the refrains were supposed to go, and I began to worry.The first practice was in late November, at Thea Heng music school.  I went with Ben on the back of his motorcycle, and I swear, I thought I was going to die.  For one thing, I'm not used to motorcycles anymore, and Ben doesn't have one of those small bikes.  For another, he violated quite a number of traffic rules (I think I told him at one point that he had been assimilated into the Khmer driving culture...and I meant Star Trek Borg assimilation).  Finally, (after he was driving the wrong way on a sidewalk and dodging other motos and various vendors) I told him I would walk.  We were quite close to the school by that time, so it wasn't a big deal. 

At practice, I met Julien (bass player and composer of the music) and Luis, our Brazilian drummer with “passion”  (say it with the proper Brazilian accent, please and with an exclamation point at the end).  The three of them started playing, and I sat there, and just listened to what they were playing, and felt completely lost. I had no idea what to do!  Julien still thinks it funny how they couldn't get me to sing a word (those of you know me, know that my usual reaction to new situations is complete silence until I get my bearings).  I went home, wondering whether I'd made a mistake, but thought I should give it another try. 
I came up with three drafts, and met Ben and Julien at Julien's bar.  They closed the bar, so I would feel more comfortable singing the lyrics.  I was still nervous, but was eventually able to get the songs out, and that was the start of that.  I am so lucky the guys were patient and didn't give up on me. I still had no idea what I was doing and I remember Julien complaining that I was putting verses in parts he had thought of as refrains or bridges. Still, we worked things out.  By 4 January, there were 5 songs written. By 7 March, we had 9 songs. We had our first gig in April, at the Eye of the Mekong.  I had just come back from Manila, and we practiced for the first time in weeks, on the same evening that we had the gig.  Leonard came to listen to us play, and after, he asked if we needed another guitar player; I said I would ask the guys.  In the meantime, we had been looking for a keyboardist, and found one in Vibol.  We performed at Slur Bar then at the Memphis in June.  Leonard joined us in July.  By this time, we had 13 songs.  Things were moving along nicely.  Now, we have 17 songs, with one more on the way (need to finish it, I've got the refrain and one verse), and another possible one, if we can nail it down (the newer songs come from jams during practice or sound check).  The songs are about injustice, inequality, rights, love, obsession, Phnom Penh, learning from mistakes...what I write depends a lot on my mood, and whether the words flow.  There's a huge difference between the first songs I wrote lyrics for, and the more recent ones.   The most recent song we have actually has a funny back story.  I woke up one Monday morning, read news stories about what was happening in Manila and Phnom Penh and was suddenly furious.  I dashed off some really angry lyrics, then sent them to Julien, asking if he had a suitable track. I told him it was an effin' furious song, and he wrote back that he had just written an effin' furious track the night before... Synchronicity.

As for the band members, it’s been great getting to know the guys, who I now feel are another family.  It's fun having 5 brothers, though sometimes I feel like a mom. When we were interviewed at Doors in August, JD from The Advisor asked whether we hang out together outside of gigs/practice.  At that point, we had to say, no, not really.  We're an interesting mix; three French men (Vibol is French/Khmer), one Brazilian and two Filipinos.  Our ages range from 30-50.  We all do different types of work (when we have work) and have differing backgrounds and histories.  Now, though, we tend to hang out with each other after gigs, and on weekends we drop by each other's gigs (most of us are in other bands) or just bump into each other at various bars.  The guys (with the exception of Ben, who forgot!!!), came to my birthday party and we all got blitzed.  There was one time we went out together (without Julien who was in France at the time), and ended up witnessing a fight.  Come to think of it, we haven't gone out together after that... 
Our discussions have moved from general hi-how-are-you's? to giving advice on each other's love life and for Leonard, getting advice from Julien about maternity clinics (both of their wives had babies this year).  Ben is now my French tutor (I'm learning French to understand conversations between the four French-speakers in the band, though most of it seems to be curse words), and Luis was instrumental in my friend Yumiko's acquiring a new kitten. Our band chats on FB drive Ben and Julien crazy, because they so often get side-tracked into non-band related matters (I will take some responsibility for that). I'm learning more about reggae (thanks to Julien, who's sent me some fantastic tracks and videos).  I'm having fun. I love the music, love writing lyrics for the music, and love my new brothers from many different mothers. I'm looking forward to our next gigs (for those of you in town, the next one is on 2 November at Equinox, with many more gigs to follow!).  I still can't say I'm completely reggaefied, but I'm getting there.  Big up to you all!

Updates:  We added Jon Banules on keyboards in 2015.  Soon after, Vibol left for France, Leonard left for the Philippines, then Luis left also for France, and I went back to the Philippines.  We had a great run, with a lot of fun gigs at Equinox and other venues.  Whenever we’re back in Cambodia, we still get together (last October, I had a mini-gig with Julien, using recorded tracks), and the album is all recorded and mixed – it’s the release details that are still being worked on. 

About the band from their FB page:

VIBRATONE is a freshly formed reggae band in Phnom Penh.
Everything started in December 2012 when guitarist Ben aka “Schkooty” met bassist Julian, aka “Gorimaa”.

Ben was an experienced reggae guitarist, coming from the famous crew “Dub Addiction”, and a longtime experienced live gigger with many bands in the Khmer capital like “Amplifire”, and the “the Schkoots”.

Julian left France and his previous reggae band “Humble Youth”, to come to Cambodia and create the original Reggae Bar with his Khmer wife and family in 2010. Although he had stopped playing live gigs, he always continued to create reggae riddim tracks on his computer.

Listening together to these musical compositions, Ben and Julien thought they could be a good start to building a new reggae band in Phnom Penh, with one aim: No cover songs, strictly original creations!

At this time destiny made them meet their Brazilian drummer, Mr. Luis aka “crazy drummer” and Filipino jazzy singer “Sistah Maia”. While both had to learn everything from scratch about reggae, fortunately their long time musical experiences allowed them to burn the steps very quickly.

So everything was ready for their first gig at the opening of Slur Bar in July ’13, when they completed the band with Mr. Vibol the Khmer-Barang keyboardist, and Filipino solo guitarist, Leo aka “El Rey”.
Finally Jon, another keyboardist, completed the band early 2015 !!