“Honestly, the band started as a joke. Last year the four of us were in Hong Kong attending a wedding and sight seeing. We got a picture taken there with the four of us together and looked at the photo later and decided that it would make a cool CD cover for some kind of boy band. That’s when Joseph threw out the idea of having a Cambodian band because we all knew how to play instruments in high school. At first we just laughed, but about 8 months or so later I emailed the manager of the biggest TV station in Cambodia asking if we could play, just to see if they would show any interest whatsoever. Immediately the manager e-mailed me back asking for a video of us performing”
“I put together all of the film equipment we had access to, and rented out a stage at BYU for a couple hours. After spending the previous night arranging our own version of a popular Cambodian song, we shot ourselves performing the song in front of three cameras and one friend. The same night I cut together the footage, added an audience to the background, and put the video up on YouTube. About two or three days later the manager called me and asked us to play. It was then, I suppose, that the band was officially formed!”
“The name is Muk mostly because we just thought it sounded cool. Both in English and Khmer. [The first translation is “Octopus”] The second meaning of the word is hopscotch. Which has meaning for the four of us as we volunteered at Cambodian Children’s Fund, teaching and playing with the children everyday–including the game “muk.” Otherwise, an octopus has 8 legs, and the four of us together also have 8 legs. Cheesy, yes, but the Cambodians love it.”
What happened next sounds a lot like something straight out of a Hollywood storyboard. Todd received an email from the station manager saying that they were interested in featuring “the band Muk” on live TV. Meanwhile, the little YouTubeaccount was getting a lot of interest (over 8,000 hits in less than 2 weeks), with glowing comments. About a week before leaving for Cambodia the station manager called Todd in person! They had noticed the YouTube success. It turned out, there was going to be a music review show taking place, and they wanted “Muk” to be a part of the event. A second song was requested. Todd and Jordan frantically wrote a second arrangement just before departure. The team would not have as much time to rehearse it as desired, but they figured they could pull it off. Todd’s mother, Deborah Smith recalls:
“[Todd] called me and asked ‘Mom! Do you have any bubble wrap?’ and when I asked why, he told me that he needed it for his trumpet. He told me he was planning to take his $2000 trumpet all the way to Cambodia! I couldn’t believe it! I wondered if this was getting just a little too crazy… But it was definitely cool.”
(Luckily, the TV station agreed to provide the guitars and drum set!)
The team loaded up over $5000 worth of film equipment entrusted from BYU, (and Todd’s pricey trumpet) along with other supplies and humanitarian packets. Then they took off on the grueling 26 hours of air travel. Upon their arrival Deborah received a quick and very reassuring text “All has arrived safely”!
Getting settled into Cambodia, and preparing for the film shoot, they kept their appointment with the TV station for an initial meeting. It was then they finally learned how extensive their “little gig” was becoming!
This was originally just supposed to be a little fun on the side of their serious documentary work, but now, it was going to require a bit more time and work. The station was very generous and gave them the use of a sound room for practice sessions, along with drums, guitars and sound equipment. The producers also made a new request for a total of four songs! At that point, the band resisted the urge to panic, and quickly bargained to provide 3 songs. Once again, they had to rely on their musicality, and Todd and Jordan’s quick arranging skills. They added a Cambodian/English remix of the Richard Marx song “Oceans Apart”.
All of this was taking place concurrently with their primary work on their important documentary of the people living in the local garbage dump. The rigid filming schedule that director Trevor Wright mapped out prior to the trip was quickly disintegrating! The juxtaposition of the two Cambodian worlds they were experiencing was poignant. Still, the group felt that perhaps there was a purpose in forming the band, and they vowed to give the performance their very best.
On Saturday July 19, 2008 the rock band “Muk” made its debut on live Cambodian television.
First Clip: Introducing the Band (the gag here was that the announcers would bring the group out and pretend not to know how to communicate with them. The band plays along, and pretends they don’t understand. Then suddenly they start speaking Khmer. The audience laughs and claps excitedly at this surprise.
At the end of the entire event, and to very loud applause, the show hosts announced that they had a gift from the sponsor of the program to present to the band. The sponsor happened to be an alcoholic beverage company. A large basket of very expensive wine was brought out to them. Obviously to not accept the gift would be terribly offensive – however, accepting the gift presented an awkward moral issue, as this would be against their religious beliefs and health code which forbids alcohol consumption. And even if they did not consume the alcohol, it could send the wrong message that they might be consuming it. What would be the best thing for them to do? Inspiration came in that critical moment:
“Before the show started we learned that the whole program would be dedicated to raising funds for the troops who were dealing with a conflict on the Thai border…[so when] they asked us to comment about the gift we were receiving, we announced that we were going to donate all of our bottles of liquor to the troops bravely fighting on the Cambodia/Thai border. Upon doing so, the crowd roared in cheers and applause.”
UP NEXT: PART 3: A DOCUMENTARY and FAME in the series Talented American Mormons Help Cambodia
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