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The Sound of Cambodia, pre-Khmer Rouge.
December 15, 2007 2:07 AM   Subscribe

The 1960's and early 70's saw an explosion of creativity and an astonishing variety of stylistic influences coming together in the pop and rock music of Cambodia.Tragically, almost all of the artists of that era were executed (or otherwise perished) during the nightmarish Khmer Rouge years. The following MySpace Music pages will help you to get acquainted with some of the wonderfully eclectic and adventurous music of this fertile period: Pen Ron, Yos Olarang, Rous Sareysothea, Sin Sisamouth, Vor Sarun, Houey Meas, So Savoeun, Eng Nary, In Yeng, Choun Malai, Mao Sareth, Sem Touch, Chea Savoeun, Toche Teng, Teth Sombath, Pen Rom, Em Songserm and Choun Vanna. Also, these related pages: Cambodian Rock, Radio Khmer Sitya, Cambodian Style and Cambodian Soundtracks. NOTE: For personal recommendations, check the hover-overs accompanying each link.
posted by flapjax at midnite (38 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thank you, sir!
posted by Wolof at 2:23 AM on December 15, 2007


Acknowledging these artists is very cool flapjax. Excellent post!
posted by survivorman at 3:09 AM on December 15, 2007


One of the singers featured in this FPP, Rous Sareysothea, is the subject of a film called "The Golden Voice". Here's a trailer for the film, and here's a website. Haven't seen it... I wonder if any MeFiers have? Here's another YouTube clip, another trailer, for a documentary called Don't Think I've Forgotten. I'd suggest anyone interested in this music take a look at this trailer: its snippets of period film provides a visual reference (if only shorthand) to the audio presented in these various links. From the looks of it, this is a film I'd love to see. You'll note the music at the very opening of the clip is Yos Olarang's "Jis Siklo", which is included on the player on his MySpace page. And here's the website for the film.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:17 AM on December 15, 2007


Wow. A new world opens. Lots of Khmer music on YouTube as well, apparently from karaoke videos. (Looks like mostly the work of one enterprising uploader). And Beware of the Blog posted the whole Cambodia Rocks album recently.
I must say this video featuring Sambath and Pen Ron just about destroyed me. (Something about the combination of innocence, joy and impending doom).
posted by Gull City at 3:23 AM on December 15, 2007


Keeping the spirit of this music alive right now is the excellent group Dengue Fever (there was a snippet of their performance in the Don't Think I've Forgotten clip linked in my comment above). Fabulous vocals, great sound. Their hypnotic "Sleepwalking Through the Mekon" is something I could listen to for hours. I discovered them while researching this post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:31 AM on December 15, 2007


And hey, Cambodian music lovers, here's some late additions: the very rootsy Sos Math (I'm totally digging his "Aphea piphea et ney": never heard anything quite like it, actually...) and the wonderful Meas Hokseng: check out how he really goes for it in "Jomnes jis kor aeng"! And that arrangement that harkens back to Cab Calloway-esque horn arrangements. Fascinating. And really great. All his stuff is top-notch.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:09 AM on December 15, 2007


Tragically, almost all of the artists of that era were executed (or otherwise perished) during the nightmarish Khmer Rouge years.

Jesus. What a great and heart breaking post. Thank you.
posted by LarryC at 4:13 AM on December 15, 2007


And here's Poev Vannary. Check out her straight-up cover of Carole King's "It's Too Late". She mixes up the verses and choruses in an unexpected back-and-forth of English and Cambodian.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:16 AM on December 15, 2007


Also, here's an interesting page devoted not to a musician, but a popular radio DJ of the era, a woman named Meas Mathrey. The audio clips on her page feature her voice, interjecting over backing music, or introducing the upcoming record. Makes for great listening.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:23 AM on December 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


What a great and heart breaking post. Thank you.

You're most welcome. And good god, heartbreaking is right, isn't it? It really brings it all home, doesn't it? Mass murder on a national scale, the erasing of an entire generation of creative people, cut down in their prime. It's devastating, in the truest sense of that word.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:28 AM on December 15, 2007


Cracking post. I have three Cambodian Rocks compilations that I bought out of curiosity last year, and they've been next to the CD player ever since.

Pan Ron (tons of MP3s in the 'Her Music' section), who did a lot of duets with Sin Sisamouth and Ros Serysothea, is a particular favourite, and sang a song with possibly the best title ever: Ooh, He's A Mute!.

Previously on MetaFilter.

Observer Music Monthly piece on Cambodian rock.
posted by jack_mo at 4:43 AM on December 15, 2007


Thanks for those links, jack_mo. I'd missed the previous MeFi post. I'm about to read the Observer article. And that's a good Pan (Pen) Ron site.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:54 AM on December 15, 2007


Fantastic post! If bittersweet. It's sort of like feeling a phantom limb, once ready to paint and write and dance but instead hacked off in a brutal, self-mutilating rage.
posted by Drexen at 5:14 AM on December 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cambodian Funk Yodeler
posted by blasdelf at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2007


My god, this stuff sounds great. What a find, and what a loss.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:12 AM on December 15, 2007


I love this stuff, but I have to ask:

Myspace is paying you, flapjax, aren't they?
posted by item at 8:25 AM on December 15, 2007


This is my new favorite music. Thank you!
posted by gum at 8:55 AM on December 15, 2007


I had no idea. Thank you for this.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:08 AM on December 15, 2007


Flapjax: sweet, sweet find. Long ago, I heard a couple tracks from The "Cambodia Rocks" compilation on the radio, and have been thirsting for more.
posted by not_on_display at 9:33 AM on December 15, 2007


"I Am Sixteen" (track 2) from the Cambodian Rocks compilation is the greatest rock song ever recorded.
posted by goatdog at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2007


I have a collection of Beatles cover versions sung in different languages ranging from Bulgarian to Yiddish. Does anybody know of any Beatles cover version sung in Khmer? That would be a real coup for my collection if I could find one.
posted by jonp72 at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2007


I was expecting kitschy pop touted as genius because of its connection to historical tragedy, but this actually is amazing work regardless of the nightmare the artists found themselves in.

A+, will playlist endlessly.
posted by bunnytricks at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2007


Thanks! I've read about this era, but never heard it. I'm still on the first artist, but this is great stuff.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:21 AM on December 15, 2007


Myspace is paying you, flapjax, aren't they?

Well, Rupert Murdoch's already formidable fortune has gone through the roof as a result of these recent posts to MeFi, but I've only gotten a little taste. He sent me a turtleneck sweater and a copy of his autobiography last month.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:13 PM on December 15, 2007


More good stuff, again from YouTube: Sin Sisamouth and Rous Sareysothea's Rom Thor Tov Tead and Chong Te Kham Hek. These sound pretty good, and the videos are comprised of some nicely done visuals: record jackets, photos, etc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:29 PM on December 15, 2007


The 2 clips above are from this YouTuber's page. LOTS of clips there. A goldmine. This is apparently the same person running one of the linked MySpace pages from this FPP Radio Khmer Sitya, as well as this Ros Sereysothea page. Some other singer profiles at that site, too, including Pan Ron, which jack_mo linked to in his comment above.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:44 PM on December 15, 2007


Damn. This is why I paid my five bucks. Many thanks!
posted by Kinbote at 4:38 PM on December 15, 2007


Wow, what a fantastic and thorough post and thread. Thanks flapjax.

As I'm listening, I'm curious about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I know they were intent on destroying culture, art, education etc, but to what end? Agrarianism? It makes no sense.
posted by snsranch at 5:04 PM on December 15, 2007


One of my favorite memories from Cambodia is when the truck I was riding in was stalled in heavy traffic and mud craters along the terrible road to Battambang. I was riding with Cambodia laborers and we all got out to stretch our legs while the traffic backup unsnarled. A flatbed truck a couple vehicles behind us was carrying a Khmer band (I think they were going to a wedding or some other occasion). They started playing music and some people began dancing. I was feeling particularly brave, so I asked an old Cambodian lady who spoke French to dance (I'm not fluent but I could ask someone to dance). She took my hand and we danced in the muddy road while the crowd started laughing and catcalling. The band was playing more country/traditional Khmer style and it actually sounded like luk thung-style Isaan (northeast Thai) music, not so much in the style of the post's many performers. It was the most spontaneous fun I think I'd ever had and I got into Cambodian music after that. I thought I knew a lot about it, but this post has turned me on to tons of stuff I'd never heard. Magnificent post, truly awesome. Thanks flapjacks!
posted by Falconetti at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


I was coming in to say the same thing goatdog said - that song has been on repeat for days and days in my house. Thanks flapjax.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:11 PM on December 15, 2007


but to what end? Agrarianism? It makes no sense.

Wikipedia:
The ideological basis of the evacuations was largely unique to Cambodia and the evolution of the ideology of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia did not have a large urban proletariat, which formed the working class in original Marxist theory. To solve this ideological problem, Pol Pot and the rest of the leadership adopted the Maoist idea that peasants were the true working class. This, combined with the fact that Pol Pot and most of the other senior party members themselves had no working class experience (unlike Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh) led to an idealisation of peasant life in Cambodian Communism.

In 1976, people were reclassified as full-rights (base) people, candidates and depositees - so called because they included most of the new people who had been deposited from the cities into the communes. Depositees were marked for destruction. Their rations were reduced to two bowls of rice soup, or "juk" per day. This led to widespread starvation.

The Khmer Rouge leadership boasted over the state-controlled radio that only one or two million people were needed to build the new agrarian communist utopia. As for the others, as their proverb put it, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss."
posted by Meatbomb at 5:31 AM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Even the recordings of "King Father" Norodom Sihanouk have a curious appeal. (Though here, clearly, the kitsch factor reasserts itself.) YouTube of "Cambodian Falling Leaves."
posted by Gull City at 8:36 AM on December 16, 2007


Falconetti, that's a great story.

Meatbomb, thank's man, that's insane. "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss." I guess this thread is a record of what really was lost.
posted by snsranch at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2007


One more link: yet another MySpace page devoted to Ros Sereisothia (note the different spelling of her name). Four great tunes on the player here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:08 PM on December 17, 2007


And scroll down a bit on that same Ros Sereisothia page for lots more tunes on a different player. Now I'm sorry I didn't find this page earlier for inclusion in the original FPP.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:10 PM on December 17, 2007


And yet another Paen Ron page, with yet another spelling.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 PM on December 17, 2007


And another Pov Vannary and another Huy Meas, both again with name spelling variations. Not an exact science yet, I reckon, this business of spelling Cambodian names with the western alphabet.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:17 PM on December 17, 2007


So, you really ARE being paid by Murdoch/MySpace!

Seriously, you are to music here as languagehat is to language and history. (That's a compliment, BTW.)

(Re: Shochu. A small glass of it with one cube of ice and a splash of good apple juice is like a really great meritage on steroids. Delicious!)
posted by snsranch at 7:51 PM on December 17, 2007


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