Thinking outside the box risks being marginalized as a novelty, but it’s worked well for Dengue Fever. This Los Angeles-based sextet, which is named for a nasty tropical disease and reruns 1960s Cambodian psychedelic pop back to its American source (an odd musical idea if ever there was one), has built a worldwide following. The band’s fourth and latest record, “Cannibal Courtship,” doesn’t seem titled to propel them further into the mainstream though.
“Wasn’t there a big pop hit by a band called Fine Young Cannibals?” asks bassist Senon Williams. “What keeps us out of the pop charts is that we are playing challenging music, not the name of the band or title of our records. When you’re playing psychedelic Cambodian pop mixed with jazz, African music and surf, then you’re not exactly going to go Top 40.”
This leg of the band’s tour is a co-headliner with Syrian artist Omar Souleyman, forming an even more eclectic world music bill. Dengue Fever feel comfortable playing with indie rock, world folk or whatever, because, says Williams, it isn’t musical style that matters, it’s artistic commitment.
“It’s definitely a labor of love what we’ve done,” Williams says. “You’ve got to stick to what you love. Even pop music that I think is really good is done by someone with passion. Our passion just lies more in the bizarre.”
Working out the Kinks
Among Dengue Fever’s many fans is Kinks frontman Ray Davies, whom they met when they performed on British TV show “Later… with Jools Holland” a couple of years ago.
“We saw him after the show and chatted a little bit. A few months later he called us up asking us to be his backing band. Unfortunately, we had commitments.”
Imagine playing “Waterloo Sunset” with its co-author.
“Oh, I love that song,” exclaims Williams. “It was a shame, but he thought of us later and asked us to play at his Meltdown Festival. So it was OK.”