Cambodian Music, Past and Future, Celebrated

About 500 artists, singers and songwriters gathered in Phnom Penh’s Chenla Theater Tuesday night to celebrate Cambodia’s past crooners and composers while lending a hand to the country’s up-and-coming artists.

A charity ball, hosted by the Sin Sisamuth Association, collected about $3,400 for the artistic association that trains and fosters present-day artists as well as preserving Cambodia’s musical heritage, the association’s Deputy Director Nuon Sangvath said.

Since its foundation three years ago, the association has helped train more than 350 lyricists and musicians, teaching them how to compose a song, play instruments and perform live on stage.

Nuon Sangvath said the group is also working on accumulating old recordings and books of songs from the 1950s up until the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Despite the passage of time, he said the tunes remain popular with both young and old.

“The best books are read by many readers, causing the pages to rot and tear. But the voices of singers are still sweet even after many years of listening,” said Nuon Sangvath at the fundraiser.

The organization is named after Sin Sisamuth, a renowned singer and occasional actor in the several films of retired King Norodom Sihanouk.

Born in 1932 in Stung Treng province Stung Treng district, Sin Sisamuth is widely hailed as the “King” of Khmer music, performing and writing songs between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s. Although the circumstances of his death remain unclear, Sin Sisamuth, like many other artists, died during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in 1976.

Also at the fundraiser was Ros Saboeun, the older sister of Ros Serei Sothea, another one of the era’s famous singers of traditional Cambodian ballads and duets. She recalled her sister’s “golden voice,” that resonated at home from an early age.

“My younger sister started to sing since she was 17 years old,” Ros Saboeun, 70, recounted.

Her golden voice, however, was silenced after the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Ros Serei Sothea was forced with thousands of others to leave Phnom Penh and, her sister said, was later forced to marry a soldier. Before her death in 1977, she lost four sons and two nephews to starvation. The soldier she was forced to marry, simply disappeared.

“It is a sad story about my sister,” Ros Saboeun said.

Sin Chanchaya, the son of Sin Sisamuth, said the organization continues to recover songs and views them as teaching tools for new musicians.

“I hope our next generation can follow our predecessor’s foot steps,” he said Tuesday night. “I hope we will reach the goals of our association and get support from all artists and singers.”


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