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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR songs make comeback

KR songs make comeback

Lyrics from the past
LYRICS: We the Youth are Committed to Following Revolutionary Kampuchea
Forever
After one thousand years, the mighty Kampuchea has now liberated the people held in darkness… men and women have been liberated completely.
Because the revolutionary Kampuchean Angkar is robust, it has led us to persevere together to fight against the evil capitalist regime.

To indoctrinate the ideology of great revolution, the political consciousness of Angkar’s strategy, with sturdy hands in every respect.

Revolutionary Angkar understands and knows clearly the friend and enemy, knows good and bad, knows wrong and right. Revolution reveals the great prosperous road.

Furthermore, Angkar has torched the blazing hot fire in which to battle, to fight the capitalists until it collapses. Its servants big and small are to be destroyed completely.

The successful fallen years continued by Angkar, to indoctrinate and solidify, the revolution is prepared to fight. SOURCE: DC-CAM

Sat in a coffee shop on Phnom Penh’s Street 240, by the fence of the Supreme Court, 53-year-old Chan Dara played several forgotten songs composed during the Khmer Rouge era to a dozen assembled  friends.

As music echoed through the cafe, the supporter of King Father Norodom Sihanouk and collector of Khmer Rouge songs spoke passionately about the tunes he first listened to as a teenager after the downfall of the Lon Nol Era.

Just a few days after the Khmer Rouge soldiers took over Phnom Penh in April 17, 1975, Dara heard the music of the regime played through loudspeakers. The songs, at first, helped him to understand Communist ideology and installed in him a commitment to work hard and belief that the corruption of the past government was over.

“My first impression of many of the forgotten songs composed during the Khmer Rouge period was that were  good lessons on learning good governance and on how to be a good person and leader – but I realised those thoughts were completely wrong when leaders of the Khmer Rouge started killing,” said Dara.

As the population of Democratic Kampuchea was sent into the fields to carry out forced labour, Dara would listen to the songs in rice fields, while constructing dams and as members of his family died around him.

But despite his suffering, and the 1.7 million to 2.2 million people estimated killed under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 to 1979, Dara still listens to the old music and is attempting to collect every song he heard during that time.

Since 1993, he has collected about 30 CDs of the forgotten songs from friends and music sellers. “I now listen to the KR songs to make me to remember what happened during the period of three years, eight months and 20 days in which at least six members of my family were killed,” Dara said.

Experts on the era have helped collate the songs, in hope they will help as an aid to national reconciliation – with citizens taking ownership of their past.

Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia Youk Chhang says the 300 songs that DC-Cam has re-mastered are becoming popular and have been copied and put on sale at markets in the capital. An estimated 80 percent of the 3,000 teachers trained by the DC-Cam on KR history have also asked for the music from the era.   

“The Khmer Rouge killed many artists and intentionally indoctrinated Khmer culture, arts and way of life. But they failed to eliminate the artistry of the Khmer people because it is in our blood. We continue to sing today, including songs written by the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

But for some, that can be an emotional experience. One artist – 53-year-old Kay Noeun from Kampong Thom province – performed the songs again, after singing them as a 13-year-old during the Khmer Rouge regime, for a DC-Cam event last year.

[They] make me remember what happened during the period ... in which at least six members of my family were killed

“It was my first time to re-perform the songs last year and made me remember my brother, who was killed during the regime,” said Noeun.

“When I sang all the songs, it was with a feeling of suffering.”

While some campaigners have expressed concern over the trend. President of Center for Cambodian Civic Education Theary Seng said that she believes and hopes the growing interests in these KR-era songs stems from curiosity.

“I think listening to them can be informative. However, a steady diet of these songs as a norm of entertainment raises concerns as the lyrics in many of these songs glorify blood and gore, violent revolution and class warfare,” she said. “I hope it is just plain curiosity, which is healthy.”

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