Nowadays, young Cambodians are losing interest in Khmer traditional music – the Ayai style of song.
Instead, youth are piling up in droves to buy CDs from K-pop stars, Thai starlets or Western darlings and ditching the Kingdom’s music past.
Prom Manh, an accomplished Ayai singer and educator, said that he only has a single student interested in studying the traditional style.
Unfortunately, both he and his student don’t even have a clear schedule yet.
“My student loves studying Ayai,” Manh said. “But it’s hard to find materials and resources to study it. And you need good resources, since Ayai requires strong poetry, high flexibility and a good education – all on part of the performer.”
Manh accepts that Ayai is no easy art to learn, and takes a natural talent.
“Students need to have good attention, and they need to be smart,” he said.
Manh added, “If anyone is naturally talented at reading popular Khmer poetry, such as Ta Krom Ngoy, they might be good at Ayai. It takes a poetic talent – an knack for informing and educating the audience.”
Doung Sokkea, a master of ceremony and Ayai singer for CTN-TV, said that he is deeply saddened to hear that young Cambodians no longer value traditional Ayai song.
“I want to teach the younger generation Ayai, but if they don’t want to learn, what can I do?” Sokkea asked. “No one wants to learn Ayai anymore, because so few support or value the art.”
Sokkea continued, “In Ayai song or comedy, you need to have a good code of ethic. These days, it’s getting harder.”
“It seems Ayai is only heard at weddings or in small villages nowadays,” Sokkea reflected.
According to Sokkea, the lack of availability of Ayai on CDs and VCDs makes it harder for the average person to have access to it.
“Ayai should keep up with technology,” Sokkea said.
A former student of Ayai, Sin Sophea, now teaches the art at Royal University of Fine Arts.
She has a batch of about 20 students.
“At first, I didn’t like Ayai,” she said. “But after becoming so interested in the history of Khmer traditional arts, I became very attached to it.”
Lao Sovannary, 23, an Architecture major at RUFA, said that her first exposure to Ayai was by accident when she was channel-surfing.
“I loved watching it,” she said. “I want to see more Ayai singers, even though my friends don’t.”
Thai Norak Satya, a spokesman at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, said, “The Ministry has always promoted Aiya and traditional art, and we offer classes for that. Also, we always organise cultural events, such as in Ayai, in order to preserve these kinds of traditional art forms.”
“Ayai is unique to our Kingdom,” he continued. “It is an art form, one that takes brainpower – it’s conceptual art and it’s intellectual.”