Christopher Minko

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Christopher Minko
Birth name Christopher Julian Minko
Born (1956-09-23) 23 September 1956 (age 60)
Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia
Genres Delta blues, folk, traditional Cambodian
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, composer, NGO secretary general, aid worker
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1980–present
Labels Mekong Sessions
Website https://www.facebook.com/KromSong/

Christopher Minko (born 23 September 1956 in Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia) is an Australian composer, lyricist, guitarist, vocalist, aid worker, and the founder of the Phnom Penh-based Delta blues group called KROM. Living in Cambodia since 1996, Minko is also the founder and Secretary General of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) NGO, also known as CNVLD.

Between 2003 and 2009, Minko received several recognition awards as a result of what he describes as his 'arduous efforts and involvement in the field of humanitarian services – both personally and through the CNVLD' – including: the World Fair Play Diploma for Promotion in 2003;[1] Achieved UN Best Practices status – Sports and Development – 2007;[2] Britannica Blog monthly Sports for All 'Award' – 2007[3]; and presented with a Gold Medal by Prime Minister Hun Sen for Services to Persons with a Disability in Cambodia at a ceremony to celebrate United Nations International Disability Day – 2009.[4]

Early life in Australia[edit]

Born to a Ukrainian Jewish father [5]and a German concert pianist mother, Christopher Julian Minko grew up with his three brothers in Myrtleford, Victoria, Australia. He played classical trumpet in the Victorian Youth Orchestra in the early 1980s and also was one of the founding members of the cult band The Bachelors from Prague. He spent a decade [6] working for various Australian artistic and educational organisations, including: Victorian Ministry for the Arts; Australian Performing Arts Museum; Victorian Trades Hall Council; directing 3 Moomba processions; Lygon Street and the Victorian Multicultural Arts Festival; a founding member of the Melbourne Fringe Festival; events director for the Australian Football League's Grand Final – the nation's largest annual sporting event. During this time period, he also spent time in Israel and Germany pursuing his education and seeking his roots.

NGO career[edit]

1990 to 1996 – Thailand and Cambodia[edit]

In 1990, frustrated with the Australian arts scene and feeling it was missing political and social substance, Minko moved to Thailand as part of a culture exchange program with the Office of the National Culture Commission of Thailand. Living in Bangkok and Sukhothai for four years, Minko worked as an adviser to the Thai National Culture Commission, which involved organising cultural exchanges between the ASEAN nations and Australia. Later he would meet Mechai Viravaidya, who would mentor and introduce him to the world of aid and development.

In 1996 he moved to Cambodia through an AusAID initiative as a technical adviser to the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization and as a consultant to Veterans International [7]. In the year following Minko's move to Cambodia, former Khmer Rouge soldier and current Prime Minister Hun Sen directed a coup against [Prince Norodom Ranariddh]]. Minko stayed during the short-lived conflict [8] working as an ambulance driver picking up the mangled bodies of the dead and disabled. Over 100 people were killed or extrajudicially executed in the conflict many of whom were commanders or soldiers loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the then co-prime minister, and Funcinpec, the royalist political party[9]. The experience left Minko with a deep respect and understanding of the needs of the Khmers, which led him to found the "CNVLD" later on.

CNVLD - The Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled)[edit]

Minko decided to start his own sports programs as a way of helping the disabled. He turned to Cambodia's popular sport of volleyball and in 1996, with the aid of a grant from AusAID, he established the "Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled)" organisation[10] , the "CNVLD", which would be officially registered as a Local Cambodian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in 2002. Later claimed by Minko as a worldwide model for sport and rehabilitation; through demarginalisation and reintegration of disabled people, recognising the unique ability and power of team sports to assist those disabled by landmines and war conflicts – outcasts of Cambodian society and international aid organisations. During the period between 1996 and 1997, Minko was actively involved in the drafting of Cambodian law on Disability (Access and Disability Rights) and in the establishment of the Cambodian Paralympic Committee. With the help of key donors to the volleyball team and its associated charities, Minko brought intensive sports training programs that elevated poor disabled farmers and ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers to a status of national heroes. In 2007, the CNVLD, in conjunction with World Organization Volleyball for Disabled (WOVD), hosted three Standing Volleyball World Cups in Phnom Penh and Minko and his Cambodian National Team brought honour and pride to Cambodia, achieving N°2 and winning bronze at the 2011 World Cup. It was the first time a Cambodian sports team had been placed in an international event. Minko also co-wrote Cambodia's first ever sports anthem for the event, recorded by Cambodian singer Preap Sovath. The disabled had crossed the barriers of prejudice, earning respect and becoming productive members of the society.[11][12][13]

In 2005, CNVLD established a National Wheelchair Racing Program that would reveal a talent, Van Vun, who has become a national hero and has gone on to compete in top racing events such as ASEAN ParaGames in Indonesia and won medals. His goal was the 2012 Paralympics and his story received international coverage when the Cambodian National Paralympic Committee neglected to file proper paperwork and he was denied his dream of competing at the 2012 Paralypics in London.[14][15]

In 2011, CNVLD & the ICRC established a Deaf Women's Volleyball Team. And in 2012, a Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team was organised in collaboration with Disability Sports and Recreation (Australia) and the Australian Red Cross.

Minko's Critcism of International Aid[edit]

Minko has been very outspoken about his repugnance for the international aid world and its participants who he frequently has referred to in interviews as "band aid parasites." He has cited "the inefficiency and mismanagement" and even corruption regarding the "World Aid Organization dollars that have poured into Cambodia – with the lion’s share going into administration of aid agencies and to salaries for Westerners living in Cambodia with expensive lifestyles that include maids, expensive cars, housing, expensive educations for their children, etc. By the time the aid money has been channelled through NGOs, the percentage that is left is very small and only a minimal amount ever reaches the local level to support Cambodians in need."

CNVLD Women's Wheelchair Basketball Program[edit]

In 2011, Minko commenced planning for a women's wheelchair basketball program to aid impoverished women with disabilities in Cambodia – women who were victims of traffic accidents, polio, physical abuse and violence.

In 2012, in cooperation with the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY), the CNVLD launched a pilot program at the Battambang Center for Physical Rehabilitation. The Women's Wheelchair Basketball Program was specifically designed to provide sporting and social economic opportunity to Cambodian women with a disability, in rural Cambodia. Women selected to participate receive a small salary of $40 per month (funded by the International Red Cross), educational opportunities, and high quality training sessions with professional coaches, and most of all, a big chance at a new life. In early 2013, an additional program was launched in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, and in August of the same year a competition between teams from Battambang and Kampong Speu would confront each other in what would become the first-ever Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in the country.[16] [17][18][19]

Into movie[edit]

Award winning film director Sir Roland Joffé ("The Killing Fields (film)"/"The Mission (1986 film)") once expressed interest in doing a film about the Volleyball World Cup events that had taken place in Cambodia, referring to the World Cup events as a sporting triumph for Cambodia and the disabled athletes. As a follow-up to "The Killing Fields" – his potential film that would be a "living postscript" -, this time an uplifting movie about disabled athletes punching their way out of poverty. Mr. Joffé himself has a longstanding association with a Cambodian NGO, "Cambodia Trust", involved in the manufacturing of prosthetic and orthotic devices for landmine survivors and polio victims. He also served as "Patron of Honour" at the 2010 Volleyball World Cup in Phnom Penh.[20]

Mekong Sessions[edit]

Minko, seeing a Cambodia that was war-torn and culturally depleted, and understanding the power of music, wanted to see major artists coming back to Cambodia again, hoping for a kind of resurrection of the glory days from the past, pre-Khmer Rouge, when Phnom Penh had been known as the "culture jewel of Southeast Asia." He founded his "Mekong Sessions"[21], an event production/promotion company with the aim of promoting a concert atmosphere in Cambodia and bringing artists from around the world. His vision also included a teaming together of Thai and Khmer artists and bands with the hope of assuaging the animosity between the two countries.

A letter to the "Master"[edit]

"In a very deep state of depression I wrote to the master of depression". Minko decided to write a very heartfelt e-mail to Leonard Cohen about Cambodia and the situation of the disabled people in the same country, suggesting a charity concert that would be held in Phnom Penh. The suggestion was accepted two weeks later by Cohen in an e-mail sent by his manager Robert Kory, telling that Robert Hallet would be working with Minko on Cohen's Phnom Penh concert. [22]

With the arisen possibilities by a Cohen come-back concert and suggesting that Phnom Penh's arts and music scenes are experiencing a boom, Minko's plans was to include gigs teaming up Thai and Khmer bands together with the hopes to assuage the animosity between the two countries, but sadly the concert would never happen[23]. Problems with inadequate sound equipment available, the abusive prices to obtain them from Thailand and other inner problems of Cambodia, would fade out the great spectacle that could kickstart the resurrection of the glory days of Phnom Penh as the "culture jewel of Southeast Asia" (an informal status it held in the 1960s) with its praised music scene pre-Khmer Rouge.

Though still opened to bringing international bands to the country, Minko wouldn't give up on establishing a resurgence of the golden age of Khmer-rock from the 60's and 70's as his plans kept flowing on the creation of disabled-people rock groups; the first being "Krom", in Khmer: "The Group".

Krom[edit]

In 2010, Minko started his own music group which he named "Krom", meaning "The Group", in Khmer language. The band's motto is "elusive, exclusive and reclusive". The songs are built on a base of open guitar tunings and then adding another guitar line and vocals – with other instrumentation being added as meets the needs of a particular song. On 6 September 2010, Krom recorded a song written by Minko with the title of "I Walked the Line", which was released by Minko's own 'Mekong Sessions' label in VCD format and sold in stores in and around Phnom Penh and also featured on Cambodia television and radio. At that time Krom members numbered seven and Minko sang vocals along with a Khmer singer, and also played guitar. The song "I Walked the Line" was later re-recorded and renamed, appropriately, to "Thinkin' It Over" and included in Krom's debut album "Songs from the Noir".

By 2012, the group had undergone normal growing pains and personnel changes that resulted in its reformatting. The description on the official website became then: "Krom is Phnom Penh based – and its composer, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, Christopher Minko, working with leading Khmer singer & songwriter Sophea Chamroeun and sound engineer Sarin Chhuon and guest musicians".

On 13 June 2012, Krom released a full-length, 14-song, debut album "Krom: Songs from the Noir" available digitally – as well as physically – on CDBaby and internet download sites such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Music, etc. The bilingual album includes songs in English and Khmer that mixes the traditional Delta Blues sound blended with overtones of traditional Khmer. Minko writes the music, writes the English lyrics, plays the guitar and occasionally sings the songs. Chamroeun sings in Khmer and English and also writes the Khmer lyrics. The album was dedicated to Minko's estranged wife, "Wassana Panmanee-Minko (Mam)", who died in Thailand in 2010 and was the inspiration for the song "The Ying", in which Minko collaborated with author/novelist Christopher G. Moore singing Moore's words in the lyrics. A music video for the same song was produced using the artwork of Bangkok artist Chris Coles.[24] Sarin Chhuon, the third member of Krom, is the sound engineer and producer. In December 2012, the triplet became a quartet with the introduction of Sopheak Chamroeun, Sophea's sister who joined Krom as harmony singer.[25]

A soulful and meaningful artist engaged with social questions, Minko and Sophea Chamroeun's songs – through moody and poetry-like lyrics and minimalistic and introspective melodies – confront harsh themes such as sexual trafficking and its consequences, and other uncomfortable issues and scenes that are common in the streets of Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Minko crafts his mark in the genre by developing a 'new style of cross cultural music' that blends Delta Blues with Khmer lyrics. Krom's musical inspiration comes from a long and varied list that includes Leonard Cohen, John Fahey, Gustav Mahler, Johnny Cash, Leo Kottke, Beethoven and Chet Baker.[26]

2013 - Neon Dark[edit]

In October 2013, a second Krom album entitled "Krom - NEON DARK" was released. The bilingual album contains 12 original songs written by Christopher Minko himself along with vocalist Sophea Chamroeun co-songwriting the Khmer lyrics. Two of the songs feature guest artist Master Kong Nay, the "Master of Mekong Delta Blues". Kong Nay sings and plays the chapei, supported by The Chamroeun Sisters (Sophea and Sopheak).[27]

'Mekong Delta Blues' album and 'Lil Suzie' Song[edit]

The album received significant attention among expats in Southeast Asia and gained a niche following internationally. On 25 September 2012 it was featured by Britain's award winning DJ Mark Coles on his "The Garden Shed" radio program – "The Pick of the Best New Music Releases and Demos from Around the Planet." In addition the album and the song Lil Suzie was among the over 20,000 entries submitted for consideration in the 2017 Grammy selection process.

In July 2012, author Christopher G. Moore announced that Minko’s lyrics for his songs from the album "Krom – Songs from the Noir" would be included in a new book, "Phnom Penh Noir", a collection of "noir" short stories by various authors, released in November 2012.

In August 2012, Krom was commissioned to record the soundtrack for an Australian-Khmer documentary "In Search of Camp 32, a Journey Back to Year Zero." Co-Produced by Australian Gaye Miller, the film recounts the story of a Cambodian Killing Fields survivor Bunhom Chhorn (Hom) in his search to expose the truth behind one of the most notorious Khmer Rouge death camps in North Western province where it is thought that an estimated 30,000 Cambodians perished during the regime of Pol Pot.[28]

In November 30, 2012, Krom gave a debut live performance on CTN's highest rating shows "Entertainment Tonight" that reached approximately 1.2 million viewers (citation needed). The broadcast included an interview with Krom vocalist Sophea Chamroeun, followed by a Krom's performance of three songs from their album "Krom – Songs from the Noir". Dancers from the "Children of Bassac Dance Group" joined the performance of the song "Country".[29]

Awards[edit]

  • 2002: Fair Play Diploma for Promotion.
  • 2004: Swiss Academy for Development Best Practices Award.
  • 2006: United Nations Best Practices Award for Sports and Development for the 2005 UN International Year of Sport.
  • 2007: Nominated 2007 Australian National Disability Awards.
  • 2007: Britannica Monthly BLOG' Celebration of Life through Sports Award'.
  • 2008: Global Finalists Nike-Changemakers Sport for a Better World Competition.
  • 2008: CNVLD initiates first ever National Disability Awards for outstanding contributions to assisting PWDs.
  • 2009: Global Finalists Nike-Changemakers Gamechangers Women in Sport Competition.
  • 2010: Cambodian Prime Minister Gold Medal for Humanitarian Services to Cambodia.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20130927094826/http://www.fairplayinternational.org/cifp/fair-play-award-winners/2010/08/09/634#.WaeXnSz9n_8
  2. ^ http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/un-gives-volleyball-ngo-thumbs
  3. ^ http://blogs.britannica.com/2007/12/the-celebration-of-life-through-sports-award-christopher-minko-of-cambodia
  4. ^ http://www.phnompenhpost.com/sport/pm-awards-gold-medal-cnvld-founder
  5. ^ http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/minko-george-18385
  6. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20100409000611/http://www.themekongsessions.com:80/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=4
  7. ^ https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/disability-ngos-fund-raising-tactics-questioned-76843/
  8. ^ https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/07/27/cambodia-july-1997-shock-and-aftermath
  9. ^ https://www.voanews.com/a/cambodia-coup-anniversary/3406430.html
  10. ^ Smith, Bophea (10 April 2016). "The power of sports". D+C, development and cooperation. Retrieved 25 May 2016. 
  11. ^ Staley, Roberta. (7 September 2006) Cambodian resurrection | Georgia Straight. Straight.com.
  12. ^ Landmine victims put Cambodia on map – Breaking News – Sport – Breaking News. The Age. (26 June 2007).
  13. ^ Sports Saves The World. Sports Illustrated, (26 September 2011).
  14. ^ Liz Gooch. "A Race Changes Lives in Cambodia". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  15. ^ Cambodian disappointment in Paralympic games | Video. Reuters. (9 February 2009).
  16. ^ "Leftovers of War disabled no more, The Strait Times Asia Report". Asia Report. Retrieved August 3, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Gamechangers: the women who survived". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Ready to roll". Stand Up Cambodia - CNVLD. Retrieved July 6, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Wheelchair coach trains Battambang team". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 
  20. ^ Cambodia's amputee volleyball league: The playing fields. The Economist (8 March 2011).
  21. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20100409001507/http://www.themekongsessions.com:80/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=5
  22. ^ - ThaiVisa.com – Oct 18, 2010 – Leisa Tyler Article - Letter to Leonard.
  23. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20101111060222/http://www.themekongsessions.com:80/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=5&Itemid=10
  24. ^ "Krom launch video "The Ying" on YouTube". The Mekong Sessions. Retrieved 2012-06-17. 
  25. ^ "Krom announce new member: Sopheak Chamroeun". The Mekong Sessions. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  26. ^ "Cambodia’s Most Reclusive Band" Archived 27 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. Travelto-cambodia.info.
  27. ^ "A Lighter Shade Of Noir For Band, Ahead Of First Live Gig". Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2012-11-15. 
  28. ^ "Camp 32". Camp 32. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  29. ^ "Krom debut live on CTN". The Mekong Sessions. Retrieved 2012-11-30. 

External links[edit]