Prom Manh is a famous Ayai singer, a traditional style of performing arts sadly overlooked in the contemporary enthusiasm for Korean, Thai and Western musical imports. He shares his love of Ayai song and defines what it takes to be a successful practitioner of the art.
Would you say that Ayai is a difficult art form to study?
Of course, Ayai is harder than some other art forms because Ayai singers need to be proficient in live performance. Traditional dancers have their own fundamental form, so they just follow their scripts. Ayai singers do not have scripts and their performance skills need to be highly flexible.
What other kinds of talent are necessary for practising Ayai?
Students need to be talented in verbal advocacy, poetry and Dharma. If someone loves reading poetry, especially things like the Ta Krom Ngoy, it would be a benefit, since they know about poetic words. Ayai is also a good way to educate people as well as entertain them and Ayai singers need to know how to do this.
When did you become interested in the style?
Unlike other boys, I listened to Ayai songs performed in village when I was young. At that time, most of the audience was old and I was the only young boy who was ever in the crowd, always surrounded by the elderly.
Are there man young people who are expressing an interest in Ayai performances at the moment?
I need to find something new for my audience while everything is moving forward. Youths crave something modern, so mostly they look to Korea, Thailand and so on. As an Ayai singer, I have to understand what people want from performance and cater my style towards that.
Are you training anyone now?
I have one student but it’s not possible to teach him to sing Ayai well, since he and I have a schedule problem and he lives out in Takeo province. Sometimes he follows me behind the stage when I sing somewhere and then I ask him to sing what I just sang, so it is the only way to teach and learn.
How do you define a successful Ayai singer?
They need to be highly knowledgeable about poetry. If they are, they can respond to their partner without reading from a script.
What advice do you have for people wanting to study Ayai?
If anyone wants to study Ayai, they have to sing something related to youth issues in order to educate them and help them enjoy the art.