Flute player Arn Chorn-Pond survived the atrocities of the mid-1970’s by playing music for the Khmer Rouge. His teacher during this time was a gentle man whom he called Master Mek. Upon returning to Cambodia in the 1990s, ChornPond sought out his old instructor, and discovered him half drunk and jobless in Battambang. The old master was among the few artists who survived the Khmer Rouge—an estimated 90 percent of his contemporaries were killed—and like the other survivors, he had neither the opportunity nor the inspiration to play on. Valuing his master’s skills as a trained musician, Arn eventually convinced Mek to join him as they set out to teach a new generation about their traditions. Music from the past maintains a prominent place in Cambodian popular culture. Kong Nay and his Chapei Dong Weng, a traditional long-necked guitar, are featured regularly on national TV networks. The songs of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea, two of the most beloved singers from the flourishing Khmer rock scene of the 1960s, are now shared online and played through smartphones. Their music lives on through the neo-soul songs of Khmer-American Bochan and bands such as Dengue Fever, who hail from California but have spread Cambodian rock throughout the world. Classical composer Him Sophy’s new commissioned Requiem is the first major symphonic work that has emerged in Cambodia to address the traumas of the late 1970s. There is also a rhythm to everyday life in Cambodia—part of ever-present ceremonies and rituals held throughout the country’s cities and villages. This is the music featured in the opening ceremonies of Season of Cambodia: the chanting and musicianship that has been preserved through the centuries-old oral tradition that has kept so much of Cambodia’s culture intact. These are the sounds into which Cambodian musicians are born; the music that forms the soundtrack of their lives.


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