I meet Michael at his bar/restaurant “Lost Art” in Kampot, South Cambodia. Striking are the framed pictures of famous Cambodian singers of the 60s at the walls. The English man from Leeds came to Cambodia in 2005. He was always into British and American songs from the 1960s and 70s. In Cambodia he came in touch with traditional music from that time. He felt in love with it and dedicated his bar to those singers, who lost their lives due to the Khmer Rouge.
During the 1960s a thriving pop music scene flourished in Phnom Penh that blended elements of Khmer traditional music with the sounds of rhythm and blues and Rock and Roll to make a Westernized sound akin to psychedelic or garage rock. The Cambodian Rock’n Roll scene ended on April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh. Nearly all the singers of the 60s and 70s did not survive the massacres. But the Khmer Rouge failed to silence them – their powerful voices live on, a priceless treasure to Cambodia and to the world that will last forever.
“When I listened the Cambodian songs for the first time, I liked them so much that I dedicated my restaurant to them.”
Pan Ron would have been the 1st lady of Khmer music in the 60s and early 70s if it had not been for the magic of Ros Sereysothea. Little is known about her life, what we know of her comes from her music, a delightful mix of the playful and the soulful. During her life she created a great treasure – hundreds of songs, many of which she both wrote and performed. Tragically, her career and life was cut short; she is not known to have survived the Khmer Rouge years. Pan Ron was the second most famous and popular female singer in Cambodia. She had some success in the early 60s, but her career really took off when she began recording with Sinn Sisamouth in 1966. After that, she had many hits, sometimes singing alone, but often paired with Sisamouth, Meas Samon, Ros Sereysothea, or some of the other stars of the era. Most likely she died in the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.
Sinn Sisamouth is, without question, the most famous and beloved Cambodian singer of all time. A brilliant singer and composer, “the Emperor of Khmer music”, has had a greater influence, and has touched more hearts, than any other singer in the country’s history. Though he was tragically taken from this world, his soul, spirit, and emotions are echoed in the legacy of songs he had bequeathed to us, and for this reason, his life is eternal. He was taken to the Killing Fields and before the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge murdered him he asked for a last wish, singing a song. After that, they killed him without mercy.
Ros Sereysothea was the greatest Cambodian female singer that ever lived. She had a powerful and electrifying voice with a haunting, bell-like quality that resonates in the ears and in the soul. Sothea was a tiny woman, standing only five feet tall, but she had a voice like an amplifier and she rarely needed a microphone. During her extraordinary career she performed thousands of wonderful songs in almost every imaginable genre. Unfortunately, we know little of her life story except through the beautiful music that we know tells us that her life was filled with heartache and that it ended in tragedy. She was a victim, like so many others during those years, but her golden voice lives on. Supposedly she got sent to a forced labour camp and then to the killing fields.
Sinn Sisamouth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOtZz_4lMO4