A chilly city of the former Soviet Union might not appear a fertile breeding ground for magicians, but Cambodia’s leading illusionist, Solo the Magician, owes his preeminence in the Kingdom’s – admittedly small – magic market to training he received in Kiev, Ukraine. “Solo” is the stage name of 46-year-old Svay Rieng native Sok Samol, which he created by combining the titles of two of his favorite comedians – the German Sacklo and Cambodian Loto. Samol began studying “magic” in 1981 at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh when he was 19 years old. But it was only when he found himself in Kiev with a generous stipend and a belly full of cabbage that he had the chance to really hone his magical skills. Now back in Cambodia, Samol and his wife – who is also his on-stage sidekick – run a magic school at their home in Phnom Penh. He casts his spell on the Post’s Mom Kunthear and Brendan Brady.
Sok Samol, a.k.a. Solo the Magician, abstains at times from some meats, alcohol, cigarettes and sex to preserve his “magical powers” but admits getting married has had an impact on his discipline.
Why did you decide to study magic?
I thought I had a natural talent for it. I liked watching magic shows on television or at public events. So I decided to study magic at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
How important was Kiev to your career in magic?
I learned so much there. When I came back in 2000 was when I first performed on television and became famous here. Then, I was also working at the Department of Fine Arts at the Ministry of Culture but my salary at the ministry was very low, so I stopped working there and opened a magic school. Kids see me on television and want to perform like Solo. But when they finish the class, they don’t want to perform because they realize they won’t earn a lot of money.
I didn’t want to use my real name because it is difficult to remember. I thought if I had a name like Solo it would be easier to become famous.
How do you prepare for shows?
When I used to perform regularly, I got up at midnight to meditate and I didn’t eat wildlife, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or have sex because all these things weaken your magical powers. After I got married, I stopped learning a lot of new magic because I couldn’t stop myself from doing all of these things. Today, before every show I rehearse the whole routine five times in front of the mirror. Nowadays, I learn new tricks from catalogues and DVDs I buy in Singapore. I am now learning a new big trick. When I’ve mastered it, I will perform on Cambodian Television Network and Bayon TV.
Can Cambodian magic become famous?
If more people pay attention to it! I wouldn’t say magic in Cambodia is bad, but because of the war it’s not very popular. A lot of circus performers were killed during the Pol Pot regime. After the Khmer Rouge, there were only five or six professional magicians left in Cambodia and even they stopped performing magic and looked for other jobs. Now there are not many magicians in the country.
What kind of venues do you perform at?
I perform in hotels in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Sometimes I turn down nightclubs because I have to perform late at night and the audience often gets too drunk to pay attention. I perform on local television a few times each year.
Any famous fans?
I do shows for regular people and for famous and rich people. High-ranking people want me to go to their houses – if it’s an Okhna or an Excellency I don’t go because I’m afraid. Sometimes I don’t realize they’re rich and powerful until I get there, and then it’s too late. Hun Sen has asked me to perform for him several times. I can’t say for sure if he liked the show because I was afraid to ask.
What is the key to ever-lasting fame?
Don’t perform too often. I perform on television two or three times a year. They ask me to perform more, but I know if I show too often, audiences will get tired of me. I know the audiences like my shows because I always go down to the audience after the show and ask them what they think of it. They always say it was great.
If you are angry with someone, do you put a spell on them?
I never use magic when I am angry with someone. I learned magic to make money and to make people laugh. I have never used it in a bad way. I have been asked to teach people magic to use against others, but I would not do it. I promised my teacher not to teach people how to put spells against others. I also don’t teach my sons magic because I’m afraid they might use it the wrong way and create a problem. I can say it will disappear with me when I die.