THESE days, anyone searching for a dose of originality in the Cambodian music industry may well come up empty- handed. Most of the music being made in Cambodia today has been copied, rewritten, or adapted from a foreign model: songs from South Korea, Thailand, China, Europe and America.
This shortage of musical originality can be at least partly attributed to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in the late 1970s, a time during which many local singers and songwriters were executed or forced to flee the country.
Despite the Kingdom’s sordid history, some schools are teaching a new generat-ion of Cambodians about song and music composition, and in the process creating a new wave of young talent.
Still, with relatively more money coming in for foreign imitations, young musicians often lack the desire or motivation to produce original sounds. Some production companies, including the innovat-ive Rock label, have decided to pursue creative originality, but similar endeavours are vastly outnumbered by mass-produced imitation songs.
In a market where copyright laws are laxly enforced at best, the time and effort needed to create original music are often outweighed by the potential for fast cash to be easily made.
About 17 music production companies are currently operating in Cambodia. But in my opinion, little of it is worth listening to, and would bring no pride to Khmer culture if presented on an international stage.
Recent improvements in music-video production have awakened in me some twinges of pride for Cambodia’s newly sonic youth. Young directors with vision and interesting ideas are bringing their creativity to bear in a host of music videos that are more than worthy of being shared with people in other countries.
Moreover, the quality of video being shot is vastly improved. Most contemporary music videos engage us with interesting plots and tasteful décor, as well as spectacular scenery and talented young actors and actresses.
Music videos cover a range of time-worn but reliable themes: young lovers; familial barriers to romance; amorous jealousy; and endings designed to deliver a weighty catharsis.
I feel, though, that most music videos rely too heavily on tragic endings. Directors should consider using some happy endings, as all this negativity can make teenagers cynical and pessimistic.
The videos for songs like 10,000 Som Tos, Som Pel Cheu Chab Mouy Krea, Pel Velea Min Saksom, and I Am Sorry, by Preap Sovath, end with the melodramatic death of one of the actors or actresses.
It’s great for eliciting tears, but the ubiquity of these sad endings can really deliver bad images and ideas to young people.
For example, after watching hours of music videos, teenagers may begin to feel as though life is only about love and mortality – an unbalanced view if I’ve ever heard one. During the 1970s and ’80s, George Gerbner, an American scholar of commun-ication, developed a theory called “cultivation analysis”. He posited that world views disseminated via TV, however inaccurate, become reality because impressionable viewers believe them.
Thus, music videos make teenagers believe that what occurs during a video also occurs in real life. Many Khmer newspap-ers have written articles recently about teenagers who committed “love suicides”, perhaps inspired partly by what they’ve seen in music videos.
Although I take pride in the Cambodian music-video industry, I do hope it chooses to spread a more positive message, if only for the health and safety of the Kingdom’s young people.
They need to consider the unexpected impacts of what they’re showing.
I urge music video producers to, if possible, find a better, more positive way of depicting young love, to entertain people while imbuing Khmer musical culture with a more positive message.