Friday, August 31, 2007

We remember: Khmer musics

... It was un-proud Australian journalist, John Pilger, who initially alerted international citizens to the horrors of the Cambodian killing fields. Pilger defines his professional mission as a "guardian of the public memory", invoking these words of Milan Kundera: "The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

The Maoist political program of Pol Pot had a very different intention; it sought to erase the past - to declare a revolutionary 'tabula rasa': Year Zero. To that end, books and ancient texts were burned, buildings were levelled, and vast human populations were murdered.

3 decades later, and history has liquidated Pol Pot - if not his memory, or that of the atrocities he visited on his fellow citizens. Now the task of recovering the history of Khmer culture has enlisted humans from about the globe; 1 of my favourite is DJ bUMp, of Defective Records. He's been kind enough to send me a copy of the Cambodian Psych-Out complication... My colleague, Sokha Suy, is going to do a little translation for him.

Mr bUMp relates that several luminaries of the Khmer pop scene were involved in the Royal Orchestra, so for yr delectations I'm posting this LP: UNESCO Collection Musical Sources/Art Music from South-East Asia IX-3 Royal Music of Cambodia...

"This record is dedicated to those magnificent artists, the royal dancers and musicians of Cambodia" - Jacques Brunot, January 1970. Download it here.

The music bears analogy to Javanese and Balinese Gamelan, but is closer in style to the traditions of Malaysia and Thailand. Wonderfully melifluous, and supported by a female choir who sing in a language which is essentially devoid of the harsh guttural consonants of Anglo-Saxon dialects. Recorded on the eve of the coup which would depose Norodom Sihanouk, the palace orchestra employs antique instruments tuned to a traditional scale, and the choir has been augmented to reflect its size at the beginning of the 20th century. A little over 5 years later, and all those instruments and most of the musicians, singers and dancers were 'liquidated' by Pol Pot & his crew.

There is something of an irony that these recordings were made by UNESCO: Cambodia is the only nation to have suffered an embargo on UN aid & assistance. Instead, food & medicine were directed to the Khmer Rouge militia of Citizen #1, in accordance with the strategic interests of the Western democracies.

Cambodian musicians were recording extraordinary pop and psychedelic music in the late '60s and early '70s - music which reflected their indigenous traditions, but made ample accomodations to the alien influence of Western culture. Those unique stylings are enjoying a revival through several documentaries and a succession of CD compilations...

(promo for the new documentary on Cambodia's secret history of rock music, Don't Think I've Forgotten)

(trailer for the recently completed biopic of Ros Sereysothea, The Golden Voice)

Some links:

the KhmerRocks website - an exhaustive catalogue of this music, for sale on CD or MP3.

Mr B. Normal's Cambodian Swing Machine compilation (download)

Nik Cohn's article on Khmer Rock for the Guardian (note, tho', that the Khmer Rouge were supported by the Peoples Republic of China, and engaged in a bitter conflict against the communist Vietnamese - an expression of millenial animosities between these distinct cultures).

some information on the contemporary Khmer music scene...

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Blogger Ruben Bike said...

hello... nice blog... greetings from mexico

5:55 pm  
Blogger BagdaddyBlogger said...

Pilger is a top bloke and I'm a sucker for his agitprop!
Fascinating blog BTW - I had no idea cambodian music has been so progressive. Cheers!

2:46 am  
Anonymous Dara said...

I am sad that I missed out on the oppurtunity to download the Royal Music of Cambodia LP. Is it possible for you to upload it again please? This is not something I can find in a store or online. I would really appreciate it.

3:37 pm  
Blogger jim knox said...

Hi Dara,

no problem; its a beautiful recording, but with the added poignancy of the recording date. give me a couple days - i'm happy to upload it again for you, later in the week.

5:35 pm  
Anonymous Dara said...

Ok, Thank for very much. I will look forward to it. No rush. :)

3:13 am  
Blogger jim knox said...

... sorry! for the delay, Dara - just changed ISPs. Anyways: new DL link is posted, enjoy!

2:33 am  

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