Hip-hop, break dance, and romantic Khmer pop songs are undoubtedly the top choices for today’s music buffs across the Kingdom.
But Sin Sophea, a singer of Ayai – or Khmer traditional music – has different tastes.
Today, Sin Sophea performs traditional Ayai song at ceremonies during Khmer weddings. In the past, she’s been invited to perform Ayai song at television stations including TVK, Apsara TV and CTN-TV during national festivals.
But before reaching such success in this discipline, Sophea faced myriad hardships and challenges in her rise to Ayai fame.
In her second-year of high school, Sophea was forced to stop studying after her family encountered financial hardship.
But due to her tenacity, and a natural proclivity for fine arts and performance, Sophea was able to win a full scholarship to Royal University of Fine Arts in 2002.
“Learning Ayai is no easy task,” Sophea said. “Getting the rhymes and the syllables right is the hardest part.”
“During the first two or three months of my study, I almost wanted to stop. But because of my skill in Ayai, I was able to earn a good living until I finished my degree, so I kept at it.”
Through self-training, and asking her friends for constructive criticism, Sophea became better and better at Ayai song as she progressed through university.
Sophea said that Ayai singers must be clever and have a good awareness of social issues, since they are meant to be educators – and understand their audience’s preferences. For example, Sophea said, an older audience will prefer a performance with Buddhist themes and theory.
“Ayai singers are intellectual, and have a talent to keep their audience entertained,” Sophea reflected.
When Sophea began her studies in Ayai, she constantly faced negative criticism and discouragement from both her family and peers. However, she never gave up and stuck with her dream of becoming an accomplished traditional singer.
“Now, [my family and peers] recognise the outcomes of how hard I studied,” Sophea said.
Sophea’s scholarship to university also provided for her to study another major, so she chose to concentrate in ethno-musicology; she finished in 2011.
Additionally, Sophea researched the background and theory of Ayai song – specifically, the meaning of song titles, lyrics and melody – for her thesis.
“If I have the chance and the support, I want to work more on my thesis so that I can produce it into a textbook for the next generation to learn from,” Sophea said. “We have archive more information about Ayai, so that it isn’t lost.”