Despite Ban, Blind Singers Perform on Phnom Penh Streets

Defying a government order not to perform on Phnom Penh’s streets, Mean Srey Mech and other fellow blind musicians were on Preah Sihanouk Boulevard on Tuesday insisting they would play on.

Authorities have made sustained efforts to stop blind performers in public places, saying that it was for their own safety and they were causing traffic jams as they solicited donations.

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Blind musician Bo Puthea performs on Phnom Penh’s Preah Sihanouk Boulevard on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Earlier this year, City Hall ordered nearly 200 musicians to divide into five groups and restrict their performances to three locations: Wat Phnom, Freedom Park and Wat Botum Park. When the musicians ignored the order and refused to play at the designated venues, the Social Affairs Ministry last month gifted them with $150,000 worth of musical instruments and sound equipment. It also promised to start promoting their performances on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page, though the videos have yet to appear.

Mr. Hun Sen also said he would provide 1 million riel, or about $250, each month to all five groups to support the musicians for the first year of the program.

Ms. Srey Mech, 18, and Bo Puthea, 31, who were among those performing along Preah Sihanouk Boulevard, said they both knew about the ban, but had decided to risk facing off with authorities in order to earn money.

“I feel scared that district security will raid us too, but we have no choice…. I need money for my living,” Ms. Srey Mech said.

“If I do not go to work like this, where can I work? How can I survive?” she added.

Mr. Puthea said they had not joined the groups that had relocated to the new government-approved areas, as they were not confident the plan was working out.

Keyboard player Ouk Solavy, 47, said his group had performed at Wat Botum Park once since the ministry handed out the instruments and equipment, but it had so far proved to be less lucrative.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said on Tuesday that ministry officials would talk with any blind musicians still performing on the streets to find out why they had not used the new locations.

“We will ask about their intention,” he said.

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