Lost links & Re-ups

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Slinging tuneage like some fried or otherwise soused short-order cook

11 August 2013

Cambodia







1975-1979 was a period of genocidal censorship throughout Cambodia under the khmer Rouge & Pol Pot. At this time, there were extreme restrictions that, if violated, could get you arrested, tortured, & likely killed. Things like education, religion, professionalism, intellectualism, banking, skilled trade, relationships with family, expressing certain emotions, & speaking about the past were all restricted. In addition, the Khmer Rouge banned all art, literature, & music that did not praise the Communist Party & its leader, Pol Pot.

Cultural & performing arts institutions were promptly closed. Instruments & recorded music were disposed. Artists & musicians vigorously hid their identities. Some musicians (including prestigious musicians, who might have difficulty hiding their identities) enlisted to play ‘revolutionary’ music for the Khmer Rough regime. Yet even many of these artists did not survive. Cambodian musicians quickly became subjected to the world’s most extreme form of music censorship…genocide. Not only was music itself banned, but it is widely estimated that ninety percent of Cambodia’s musicians & performers were killed during Pol Pot’s rule. By 1979, it became clear that the rich cultural history of Cambodia was all but erased.


Although this music was released in 1978, it was recorded much earlier. It was presented to save for posterity music that was being wiped off the face of Cambodia. Fortunately, the Pinpeat Ensemble still exists today, although many of the original musicians were killed under Pol Pot’s genocide.


Traditional Cambodian music can be heard at a number of occasions, for example: spiritual rites; weddings; Buddhist festivals; & performances of shadow theatre (a kind of shadow puppetry). In Cambodia: Traditional Music, Vol. 1 the Phleng Khmer Ensemble & the Pinpeat Ensemble play instruments such as the khse diev (one-string lute), phlom slek (‘blow leaf’), pai-ar (bamboo flute), chhing (hand cymbals), & skor arak (small drum). The musicians improvise words & vocables around an underlying structure. They follow their fellow performers to create complex layers of rhythm.

This is Volume 1, there is a second volume, FE 4082. These are classic style field recordings compiled & annotated by Chinary Ung.

 Various - CambodiaTraditional Music, Ethnic Folkways Records FE 4081, 1978. 
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Side A –
Skhe-Diev (monochord lute solo)  
Phlom Sleck (single leaf solo)
Krom Phleng Khmer (ensemble/ male voice)
Krom Phleng Khmer (ensemble music wedding)
Chhayam (percussion, ensemble/ male voices)

Side B –
Krom Phleng Pinpeat (percussion ensemble & sralay)
Mohori (ensemble/ female voice)
Krom Phleng Pinpeat (percussion ensemble & sralay)
Krom Phleng Pinpeat (percussion ensemble & sralay)

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Ros Sereysothea was probably the greatest Cambodian female singer that ever lived. She had a powerful electrifying voice with a haunting quality that resonates in the souls as well as the ears. Sothea was a tiny woman, standing only five feet tall, but she had a voice like an amplifier. Live, she rarely needed a microphone.  During her extraordinary career she performed thousands of wonderful songs in almost every imaginable genre.

What we know of her life story informs us that her life was filled with heartache, that it ended in tragedy.  She was a victim, like so many others during the tumultuous years that she lived, but her golden voice lives on.

Ros Sereysothea’s birth name was Ros Sothea. She was born in 1948 in a small village in Battambong, Cambodia. Like many poor Cambodians, Sothea had a childhood defined by hardship. Sothea's family could not afford to send her to school. She grew up not knowing how to read or write Khmer.

In her teens, she & her family began to make a living by performing as a traditional peasant band.  Sothea & her brother Serey sang while the rest of her family played the music. They performed daily throughout the small villages of Battambong, earning enough from their music to provide food for the family.

Slowly their reputation grew. Sothea’s talent was obvious early on, & her brother was also very popular so larger & larger audiences turned out to see the family band.  Apparently the band had a name (since lost to history) but most people just called them Serey-Sothea after these two enchanting singers.

At the same time that Serey-Sothea was gaining popularity while touring through Battambong province, the Cambodian music industry based in Phnom Penh was growing rapidly, producing Cambodia's first real music stars. When word got to the villages that musicians & singers were making good money in Phnom Penh, Serey & Sothea decided to go to try their luck. They had little to lose & much to gain if they succeeded, so Sothea & her brother made the move south to the capital city.

They arrived in Phnom Penh with no connections to the music industry so they decided to try out during an open-mike night at a local club. After their very first performance they were hired by the club to be the featured singers. They continued to perform & quickly got work at other clubs around town. Sothea was rapidly becoming a sought after attraction. Her popularity grew across the capital. She began to get booked as a solo act, attracting ever growing crowds. Sothea was something different. Her voice could not only delight audiences, but also bring them to tears of both joy & sorrow. Her immense talent soon eclipsed her brother in both fame & popularity. When she broke out on her own she kept making music under the name Sereysothea as a tribute to brother.  


Around this same time, Sereysothea's popularity sparked the attention of Phnom Penh record producers. She officially changed her name to Ros Sereysothea & signed her first record contract. Soon her music could be heard on radios across Cambodia. She had her first hit around 1967 with the song "Stung Khieu". From the late 60s to the mid 70s Ros produced some amazing music, classics in many genres. She even starred in a few films. It was during these years, the heyday of Sereysothea's professional career that King Norodom Sihanouk gave her the title ‘Preah Rheich Teany Somlang Meas’ (‘Golden Voice of the Royal Capital’).  It was the first time the King had given any singer such an honor.


At this time a new sound was emerging in Phnom Pehn, led by the famed male singer Sinn Sisamouth, the ‘Elvis of Cambodia’. Sinn & Ros developed a great professional relationship. They collaborated often & were known as the king & queen of Cambodian pop music. The two worked with other Cambodian musicians of the time to create what today is sometimes called Cambodian psychedelic rock or garage rock.

Influenced by Western rhythm & blues, Rock’n'Roll, & music from Latin America that Cambodians were hearing on US Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War, this new sound was a truly unique creation of the Phnom Penh music scene in the 60s & 70s. This new Cambodian rock music replaced the instruments of traditional Khmer music with western style rock bands.  This hybrid music was a perfect fit for Sereysothea's high, clear voice; when coupled with bands featuring prominent, distortion-laden lead guitars, pumping organ, & loud, driving drums, the result made for an intense & often haunting sound.


Up until 1975, Ros continued to perform & record music in the still thriving Cambodian music scene. In April of that year it all ended when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh. Along with many others, Sereysothea was forced out of the capital & into the Khmer Rouge work camps of Phnom Sruorch, Kompung Speu. When the singer first arrived as a new worker, the villagers did not recognize her. She managed to keep her identity a secret. Later on, as more people from Phnom Penh were moved to the site, she was recognized. After discovering her identity, the Khmer Rouge leaders made Ros sing songs that celebrated the new regime, that urged the people to work harder. When she wasn't singing, Sereysothea was required to work at digging irrigation ditches like everyone else in the camp.  

Even though she could sing, she wasn’t allowed to sing the songs that she loved. She was only permitted to sing during celebrations & meetings organized by Angkar (meaning The Organization, the supreme authority in Cambodia under Pol Pot, an obscure ruling body was kept in secret). Although the songs that Ros was forced to perform during those years were simply propoganda, those who heard her have declared that her voice was superb, that her incredible voice made them temporarily forget about the pain that was created by the revolution.


In 1977, Sereysothea was forced by Pol Pot to marry one of his assistants. Sothea was unhappy with the marriage, & the couple quarreled often. Her new husband was a very jealous person who abused her because she sang to others. Their violent relationship was causing disturbances at the work site. Eventually the problem came to the attention of the sub-district leader, who investigated the situation. It was decided by the Angkar that they didn't need this disturbance any longer. In 1978, Sereysothea went missing from the irrigation building site.  Like countless others, she simply disappeared. Some people said that they had seen Ros & her family riding on a cow cart on Jeum Sangkae road, going to a new town, but no one who moved out to the ‘new town’ ever return. It is most likely, according to several fairly reliablr sources, that they were taken into the ‘killing fields’ in the forest south of Trorphaung Phlong & killed.

Classic Cambodian rock music including songs by Sereysothea, Sinn Sisamouth & others has been featured on the soundtrack to Matt Dillon's film City of Ghosts. The film Don't Think I've Forgotten documents the Cambodian rock scene during the 60s & 70'.  The Golden Voice is a short film about the end of Ros Sereysothea's life. It played at the Beverly Hills Film Festival 2007 & is available on DVD.  The Los Angeles based band Dengue Fever plays in the style of the classic Cambodian rock bands & covers some Ros Sereysothea songs.  

In the wake of Pol Pot's genocidal rule, Sothea's music survived only on rare bootlegged cassette tapes & vintage vinyl kept hidden during the Communist years. The fact that many Cambodians held onto their copies of these classic songs, despite the risk to their own lives, is a powerful tribute to the love that the Khmer people have for Sereysothea.  

I have tried to do my part to help. This is what I have in the past on my blog called a mega-post (I’m somewhat of a completist about certain artists [more than 100 unique Muslimgauze releases, at least 55 Legendary Pink Dots plus 20 Edward Ka-Spel & various Silverman, Ryan Moore, Tear Garden, maybe 25+ Zoviet France, well you get the idea] so hope you don’t think this is overkill). I have compiled nine volumes here, 116 tracks. They are not arranged by styles, just alphabetically, so if you want to separate them into various genre, you can.









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Over the last few years The Cambodian Space Project have unleashed their psychedelic Khmer-rock from the jungles of Cambodia onto the rest of the world. Their debut album is entitled 2011: A Space Odyssey. CSP has become favorite band of King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia & the country’s the unofficial state band. They played for Hillary Clinton during a recent visit to Cambodia.

Based in Phnom Penh, The Cambodian Space Project are fronted by the playfully charismatic & vocally gifted Srey Thy with a multi-ethnic mixture of Cambodian, Australian, & French musicians making up the rest of the group. A culture-clash of grand proportion, the band combines traditional Khmer songs & instrumentation with Western rock 'n' roll (originally imported by American G.I's back in the 60s & 70s) creating their own unique place in the musical landscape.



Recorded in Cambodia, the album was made as a tribute to the musicians of Cambodia's musical golden-age, building on the legacy of the likes of Ros Sereysothea, Sin Sisamouth, & Pan Ron.

Most of the tracks on the album were originally written for or by these three legends of Cambodian music, here reworked by CSP with a Western edge. The cross pollination of cultures is perhaps best highlighted on the track 'Kolos Srey Chaom' (Love Gold) where Srey Thy sings the words from a Ros Sereysothea track over Shocking Blue's classic “I'm Your Venus”.


The band formed in 2009 when Julien Poulson, an Australian musician & film producer, was in Phnom Penh looking for Cambodian musicians with which to work. He heard lead vocalist Srey Thy singing in a karaoke bar. Within a couple of months The Cambodian Space Project was born, with Srey as the singer & lyricist. Up until that point life had been far from easy for Thy. Born into a poor family in the poverty stricken region of Prey Veng, she began singing in local restaurants at an early age. Thy left home at the age of 18, heading to Phnom Penh in search of a better life, but while there she was kidnapped & nearly forced into a sex trafficking ring. Left tied to a bed with electrical wires around her wrist for hours, an unknown woman freed her & gave her $2.50. Thy fled. Following this harrowing moment in her life, Thy went on to work odd jobs when & where she could, sending money back to her parents & her young son as often as possible. She now uses her new found fame in the region to raise awareness of human trafficking in Cambodia through workshops & public speaking.



The Cambodian Space Project – 2011: A Space Odyssey, Metal Postcard Records, 2011.
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Tracklist –

Snaeha Doc Toek Kmom (Love like Honey)
Chom 10 Kae Theav (Wait 10 Months More)
Ban Juarp Pros Snae I’ve Met my Love)
Mean Visa Kmean Bai (Have Visa, Have No Rice)
Chnam Oun Dop Pram Mouy (I’m Sixteen)
Tek Tum (Big Water)
Pros Kangaroo (Kangaroo Boy)
Rom Chong Vat a Go Go (Dancing a Go Go)
Kolos Srey Chaom (Love God)

Enjoy,

 







9 comments:

  1. Traditional Music
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    The Golden Voice part 1
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    part 2
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    part 3
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    part 4
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    part 5
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    part 6
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    part 7
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    part 8
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    part 9
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    A Space Odyssey
    JhhCXzydgJtFEJ2qQ28PZlqNHRce_ES-ZLPaiXFUdcM

    ReplyDelete
  2. Holy karp - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had heard that karp were holy, just never knew for sure.
      Thank you for your comment.

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  3. thank you for sharing

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    Replies
    1. My pleasure. Thanks fo0r taking the time to comment. Ros Sereysothea is a real musical treasure & needs to be heard by all.

      Delete
  4. Thank you so much! This really made my day. Sharing is to culture what water is to life.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is one of the most treasured posts I have ever had the pleasure to read. Thanx so much !!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your wonderful words. Ros Sereysothea is such a special individual & singer. I come back to this post often to re-read her story. i listen to her music often, as well as the others featured here.

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  6. This is the most Out-There collection of a genre that is far too much overlooked. I thank you profusely...

    ReplyDelete