Sin Setsochhata’s Moonlight Ballads

The singer is one of a new crop of Cambodian artists fusing new beats with sounds from the country’s golden age of pop.

Sin Setsochhata, an emerging singer-songwriter from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has a deep sense of history and a profound sense of self. Her easy smile reflects the sure-handed emotion of her songs, stories of personal struggle and triumph that delineate her musical journey to date. “Maybe,” she says, “it’s a destiny that’s shaped me.”

Setsochhata comes from a line of musicians going back through her parents to her grandfather, Sinn Sisamouth, an iconic figure who blended traditional elements of Khmer music with early rock & roll, incorporating soul, R&B, and even psychedelia to help develop the unique sounds that defined the golden era of Cambodian rock. Known as “the King of Khmer Music” and “the Elvis of Cambodia” in the Sixties and Seventies, Sisamouth recorded hundreds of songs and, along with singers such as Ros Sereysothea and DJs like Huoy Meas, was a leading light in Phnom Penh’s thriving music scene before disappearing when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975.

The new regime banned foreign sounds in a campaign to drive out Western influences, and hunted down any perceived enemies of the state. (“If you want to eliminate values from past societies, you have to eliminate the artists,” Prince Norodom Sirivudh notes in Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, a gripping documentary on Cambodia’s lost rock & rollers of the time.) Now, like her talented forerunners, Setsochhata is drawing on her past — musically, personally, and historically — to create fresh grooves for listeners around the world.

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