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Letter to the Editor: Deth Sok Udom

Deth Sok Udom Lecturer, Zaman University

I recently read an op-ed piece by Tivea Kom titled “A romantic ending in Khmer music today” (published on July 27) with great interest.

The article touches on the lack of originality in Cambodian music production, but also on the tendency of video-clip producers to project tragic endings for romantic lovebirds.

I’m writing to second that (although it should be pointed out that some companies do strive more than others to produce original pieces), but also to highlight a few other points now that we have addressed this song-clip issue.

In relation to tragic endings, I have noticed that to emphasise the romantic nature of the songs, producers have chosen to show couples taking great care of each other when their partner is experiencing severe sickness. It makes one wonder whether Cambodia has a healthcare service.

The extreme example of such misrepresentation can be found in the video clip for Krong Kmean Meak Ti, by Khmer singer Chhorn Sovannareach, in which the actor is taking great care of his sick girlfriend, only to hold her dying in his arms in the desert (or is it a sandy river bank?) at the end. Not a single scene of a medical consultation or treatment appears in the clip.

Several song clips show very young (and supposedly unmarried) couples either teasing each other or having an argument in their bedroom. Such portrayals are probably not problematic in a Western cultural context, but they certainly are in Cambodian culture.

These clips may reflect the social changes Cambodian young people have undergone in terms of less parental control and more freedom of interaction with their love partners. On the other hand, however, they serve to normalise the concept of sharing a home without a proper marriage between couples.

Cambodia is not at that stage yet, not to the point that it’s simply OK to live together without being married, which is still considered a social norm.

Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any strong public reaction from concerned individuals or institutions on this aspect, at least not that I know of.

There seems to be only a general outcry against Valentine’s Day as a “Couple Day” (Thngai Bon Song-Sar) concept, but not against the aforementioned multimedia portrayal that essentially puts the same issue at stake. One doesn’t have to be a culturally conservative person to be alarmed by such inconsiderate misrepresentation.

Another noteworthy point is spelling mistakes and inconsistent usage in karaoke scripts. The National Comm-ission of Khmer Language can work as hard as it cant to improve the unity and accurate usage of the Khmer lang-uage, but it can’t compete with the popular songs (with unchecked spelling mistakes) that are seen over and over by teenagers.

It would not be an exagg-eration to claim that the exposure by young people to mistakes in popular culture will in turn reinforce their future spelling mistakes, especially if they’re not aware of any proper source as a reference for accuracy.

Last but not least, the English phrases in Khmer songs: personally speaking, the inclusion of English language in Khmer songs is not a major issue. But if people are so keen to include English (or any other foreign language) in their songs, perhaps they should make sure singers pronounce it correctly.

More important, song producers should probably hire someone with a good comm-and of English just to check their grammatical mistakes – something I have witnessed more than once – so it’s not an embarrassment to foreigners or the rest of Cambodians, especially those who can speak English accurately.

The points I have made should not be seen as an attack on the music industry.  It is intended to be nothing but constructive criticism. And, hopefully, it serves that purpose.

There’s an old saying, “It is easier said than done.” But I believe that none of the points discussed here are beyond the capacity of the music industry, and relevant individuals/institutions, to take into consideration and act accordingly.

If this article can provoke further discussion on this issue, so much the better.



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