"The war of political songs is as strong as the war of weapons. It can change
a regime,'' boasts Touch Chhattha, a veteran songwriter of propaganda music.
Successive Cambodian regimes have played the same tune - using songs to push their
messages to the Cambodian people - for decades.
It began, according to old-timers like Chhattha, in the late 1950s or early 1960s
under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime of the then-Prince Sihanouk. One song targeted
political activists Son Ngoc Thanh and Sam Sary (Sam Rainsy's father), labeling the
pair as ''Khmer Sa'' (Khmer White) who were puppets of foreign imperialists.
After Lon Nol's overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in 1970, it was Sihanouk's turn to be
the subject of derogatory songs. The United States-backed Lon Nol regime used to
broadcast songs accusing Sihanouk of ties with China, Laos and North Vietnam.
''What is the nationality of that lion, how is his father named Mao Tse Tung, and
his children named Sophan Kdan Vong [the Laotian King]?'' went one such song. "What
is the nationality of that lion, how [he] sold the land to Viet-Cong...."
This song was written by a Cambodian writer Samneang Rithy, now deceased, according
to officials at Cambodia's National Radio.
While some songs were aimed at discrediting politicians or leaders, others were intended
to raise the morale of soldiers.
Touch Chhattha, who is now the head of the National Radio's art department, recalls
writing one song encouraging Lon Nol's soldiers to be stronger against the Viet Cong.
"We are parachute soldiers, as strong as thunder.The Viet Cong are so scared
of us, the Viet Cong are trembling of fright like the lice....'' was one of the song's
The collapse of the Lon Nol regime to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975 led to a
new wave of songs targeting Lon Nol and earnestly proclaiming the new Maoist utopia.
"Oh, lovely children please come; Daddy and Mummy are telling you a story. Please,
children remember for your whole lives, take care of our revolutionary culture,''
began one song, recorded in a KR notebook.
The song goes on to describe the KR guerrillas who fought against Lon Nol:
''In the day time, hiding in the farm houses, in the night going out to make the
revolution. Never eating enough, never sleeping well, for many years so unhealthy.
''Walking and working with bare feet, up through the rocky mountains for months.
Sleeping on the ground with a torn plastic sheet, the rain blowing, leaking in, sitting
and trembling with the cold.''
Another KR song runs in a similar vein:
''On the 17th of April, Kampuchea is liberated, the cheering voices echoed through
the sky; the black clouds are melting away, the light is brightening...
"...We clearly see the soldiers' patriotism, for more than five years in the
day and night, confronted with the enemy.... till we got victory for ever.''
The KR victory was not for ever and, ousted by the Vietnamese invasion, their songs
were relegated to the history books.
Under the next regime, the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), vitriolic anti-Sihanouk
songs were back in vogue. One song was called ''Son Pol Si Pot'', which claimed that
Sihanouk, Pol Pot and Son Sann were one and the same.
''People, don't be confused. Son Sann and Sihanouk are the same. They are Pol Pot.
[They] are working to follow the tricks of their boss - Peking.''
Anti-Chinese sentiment was, of course, a key part of the PRK propaganda against the
Cambodian resistance forces. One song, titled ''Peking City feeds the animals'' portrayed
Sihanouk, Son Sann and other resistance leaders as animals in a zoo, waiting to be
fed by their Chinese masters.
''In Peking City, there is an exhibition of the animals, very good-looking [but]
all are crazy animals,'' the song begins, before going on to describe Cambodian resistance
leaders variously as a horse, monkey and an old blind cat.
By 1993, two years after King Sihanouk had returned to Cambodia, the tune changed.
"Bravo, Bravo! Samdech Euv [the King], children, grand children are so happy,
it looks like the sun is lighting the earth, the land of the great Angkor,"
begins one song written by Touch Chhattha, who used to write songs under both the
Lon Nol regime and the PRK.