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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Emerging star of pop music

Emerging star of pop music

S LIPPED in between the tunes of Cambodia's most famous singer, the late Sinn

Sisamouth, Khmer radio stations often play the songs of a young lady with an

unmistakably sentimental voice. Listeners instantly recognize the music of Meng


Aged 19 and a singer for 19 years, as she jokes, Keopichda is

the new generation in Cambodian popular music.

Rapidly becoming one of

the most famous Khmer singers in recent years, she has just returned from a

five-month visit to the United States, where she displayed her golden voice to

Khmer-Americans in five states. She also had about 60 new songs recorded by

Khmer-run music companies there.

But for most in Cambodia, she is best

known for her old, though still relatively recent, hits such as Anichar Neaksre

(Poor Farmers).

The 1991 song, telling the story of peasant farmers who

endured drought and then floods that year, kicked off her popularity in earnest.

A year later she was invited by overseas Khmer to perform in Australia, and then

France in 1993, before going to the US last November.

Her fans at home

have not forgotten her in her absence. Her songs are increasingly requested by

radio listeners, while market vendors say they sell a considerable amount of her


With her broad friendly smile, traditional ladylike behavior and

an unrivaled emotional intensity to her singing, Keopichda has a personality

unlike most Cambodian singers.

While others sing without passion, she has

an incredible talent in putting herself into the position of those whose unhappy

situation she sings about.

"I am a person with much sentiment. I have

been crying while singing sad songs since I was young," she told a Khmer


Born to a musical family, Keopichda has one brother and two

sisters - one who is also a singer and the other works at the Ministry of

Culture's Arts Department.

Her mother, Keo Sangvapich, was one of the

most popular singers of Ayay (Khmer opera-like music) in the 1970s, and her

father, Meng Hun, a classical music teacher at the University of Fine


Her mother fell sick and eventually died, at age 35, after being

beaten by cadre in 1978 during the Khmer Rouge rule. She was eight months

pregnant at the time.

Her father passed away recently at age 72, just

after her return from the US three weeks ago.

The death of their last

parent was a bitter shock to Keopichda and her siblings, leaving with little

more than the memories and encouragement left them by their mother and


Keopichda said she inherited her parents' musical nature at

birth, and both energetically encouraged her pursuit of music.


parents told me that ever since I learned how to speak I started singing." She

began singing Ayay at age five, and professionally singing when she was


She first became known when, as a young school girl, she sang "Please

come back, Daddy", broadcast on radio and television in the


The song, which she sang with a sobbing voice and emotional

gestures, told the story of families whose fathers were "misled" into the jungle

by Khmer Rouge propaganda. Many people were unable to help but weep while

listening to it, and it quickly established her as a promising


Years later, Anichar Neaksre (Poor Farmers) cemented her

popularity, followed by a dozen or so other top hits. They included Duong Chan

(The Moon), Chumroeu Sneh (Depth of Love), Sronos Pleng Kar (Missing Wedding

Music), Roeung Smarn Mindol (The Unexpected Thing), Pnheo Kang Choun Bong Vinh

(Sending the Bracelet Back to You), Bopha Battambang (Battambang Flower), and

the more famous still Moronakpheap Noeu Aranh (Death at Aranhaprathet), put out

after she came back from France in 1994.

This remorseful song tells of a

Khmer woman who leaves her husband and family, and is cheated into prostitution

by a "rich" man in Thailand.

"They've sold me like poultry. I've become a

bar-girl in Aranyaprathet," Keopichda sang. The woman in the song then falls

sick and dies on Thai soil.

Keopichda is unabashedly emotional in her

songs, and says: "If we just sing, everyone can do it the same, so we must try

to be different."

In the almost ten years since she became a professional

vocalist, Keopichda said she has sung between 600 and 700 songs - about 20 of

them borrowed from the late Sinn Sisamouth, the 'Elvis' of Cambodia, and others

from his peers such as Ros Sereisothea and Pen Ron.

However, she said

that she greatly attributed her popularity to many helpful composers - including

Bi Bunthuok, who also used to write songs for Sisamouth, Ven Phat, one of the

few old singers who survived the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Katha, a new celebrated

composer, and slain newspaper editor Non Chan, who had sent her about ten


Whereas Sisamouth could also sing fluently in French, Thai and

Chinese, Keopichda has only produced two English songs - Without You and a mixed

Khmer-English version of Right Here Waiting for You.

As a young pop star,

she is a darling of other Cambodian singers and musicians who give her technical

as well as spiritual advice and support.

But she is definitely no

Madonna. As a single woman singer, she chooses not to perform in nightclubs. She

mostly sings at special public occasions, and records her songs for music


"It's all right if I just sing, but I can't if you ask me play

that part," Keopichda responded on the telephone to a music producer trying to

entice her into make a suggestive song video.



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