Swimming to San Pablo

A little touch of Phnom Penh at Casino San Pablo

Been everywhere, done everything? Bored with the same old bar bands and disappointing big-name music-biz headliners? DJ nites all beginning to sound the same? Feel like taking a break from the pai gow tables? Make it to Casino San Pablo Saturday evening for the Cambodian Dance Concert. It’s cheaper — and safer — than traveling to Phnom Penh, but compared to the offerings in most East Bay entertainment spots, this show is completely off the map.

According to promoter Joran Ling, Saturday night’s performance by the Sek Meas Band and various “all-stars” — as opposed to some of the other acts he puts into the casino’s showrooms — is more traditionally Cambodian. “It’s hard to describe to Americans,” admits Ling from his office in Long Beach. “The style is a mixture of bolero, jazz, cha-cha, and a traditional music called romvong, where the dancers twirl round and round. You have to see it, then you’ll understand.” Everybody dances, and such things as hand movements can make all the difference. “Our way of dancing is not like the American way,” says Ling.

Most of the performers are recent immigrants, and they typically play for a crowd that’s ninety percent Cambodian — the rest are mainly Thai. Ling draws his talent from California’s huge Southeast Asian communities (“If I want to promote something big, I use musicians from Long Beach,” he says), which is why Saturday night’s featured singers include names that might be better known in Trat or Siem Reap than in El Cerrito: the popular Thai duo of Jeff & Sarah are the headliners, along with a boy-girl pair of singers from Cambodia called Sokhon and Sodanny. In March, Ling is bringing a Cambodian-style “American oldies” band to the casino, but Sek Meas and the All-Stars are the real thing.

The Sek Meas band and Cambodian All-Stars play at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 16, in the Oasis Showroom at Casino San Pablo, 13255 San Pablo Ave. in San Pablo. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more info: 510-215-7888, ext. 4.

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