New Instruments, but Old Venue Woes for Blind Musicians

The Social Affairs Ministry has purchased $150,000 worth of musical instruments and sound equipment for Phnom Penh’s blind musicians in a bid to persuade them to perform in designated spaces, though many worry that restricted venues will limit their income.

The ministry held a ceremony on Wednesday to provide each of the five groups of performers a set of guitars, drums, a keyboard and sound equipment, though the musicians will not be able to receive any of it until Friday, said Em Chanmakara, secretary-general of the ministry’s disability action council.

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Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth, left, presents instruments to blind musicians at the ministry in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Early this year, City Hall banned 194 musicians from performing on Phnom Penh’s streets, dividing the performers into five groups and allowing them to play only in three locations: Wat Phnom, Freedom Park and Wat Botum Park.

After the ban took effect, the musicians refused to play in their designated venues.

In an attempt to appease them, the ministry plans to record video footage of their performances once a week to post on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page and set up special booths for them to perform on weekends, Mr. Chanmakara said.

Touch Sarath, a 30-year-old disabled musician, said his group would have to practice with the modern equipment before returning to play, adding that he still didn’t believe the group would be able to earn as much income as in their previous location.

“If we cannot earn money to serve our group, we will find [a] new solution, but I don’t know what that will be,” he said.

Mr. Chanmakara said officials realize that musicians can earn more performing streetside, with the ability to move as crowds rise and fall. For the first year of the program, Mr. Hun Sen will provide 1 million riel, or about $250, monthly to all five groups to support the musicians, he said.

Additionally, the ministry will also seek corporate sponsorship, such as mobile telephone operators.

“We want to see them perform with sponsors like normal concert players,” Mr. Chanmakara said.

“We don’t want to see them perform as beggars, but we want to see all of them perform to show their abilities.”

He said the musicians could also use the new instruments in enterprising ways, by renting out their equipment to other musicians or performing in paid gigs.

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