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Ministry bans song after complaint from boxing federation

Two men compete in a kick-boxing competition in Phnom Penh on Saturday evening.
Two men compete in a kick-boxing competition in Phnom Penh on Saturday evening. Sreng Meng Srun

Ministry bans song after complaint from boxing federation

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has issued a blanket ban on popular singer Khem’s latest release Life of a Boxer, after its lyrics, which liken an injured fighter to a beaten animal, attracted criticism from the president of the nation’s top boxing body.

According to a ministry directive issued on Thursday, Khem, who is presently in France, has been banned from performing the song, and television and radio stations are prohibited from playing it. It also cannot be produced for karaoke.

Town Productions, to whom Khem is signed, is also to issue a public letter of apology for the song to the Cambodian Boxing Federation, it says, and cease the common practice of releasing songs that rewrite the lyrics of older songs while retaining their melody.

Khem’s Life of a Boxer, which was unofficially released about three months ago, is set to the melody of Ros Sereysothea’s romantic 1971 classic The O’Yadav Waterfall but instead tells the tale of an impoverished professional boxer with few prospects.

“I raise 10 fingers covered with blood. I want to sing the true story – the story of a boxer. No one cares, no one understands. This life has no direction. Living for others,” Khem croons in the song, which he performed live on PNN television in September.

“When it’s night, I rest in pain, and my body is covered with blood. Some days, the body is weak, and it cannot resist, like an animal which was beaten. This is the life of the boxer; don’t know when the sorrow will pass.”

An official at the Ministry of Culture said yesterday it had no choice but to ban a song that depicted the nation’s kickboxers as equivalent to animals.

“Writing a song about being beaten as animals affects the value of boxing, which is our national sport,” Thai Norak Satya, a secretary of state and spokesman at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, explained yesterday. “The role of the writer is not to create hostility.”

Cambodian Boxing Federation president Tem Moeun, who filed the complaint, and Town Productions manager Ea Vaddhna could not be reached for comment. However, at least one high-profile Cambodian boxing champion defended the song.

Ot Phuthong, who fought in about 300 matches in Cambodia and Thailand and won multiple championship belts before his retirement two years ago, said he believed Khem’s new song reflected what he had seen.

“It’s like the real life that existed before,” Phuthong said. “Nowadays is not like the meaning of the song . . . The difference is that boxers now get more money, and their families do not stop them [boxing].”

He said that he used to get paid 100,000 or 150,000 riel (about $25 to $37.50) per fight during the early 2000s, but “now, for special matches, boxers are paid more than $100”, allowing them at least the chance to save.

Seng Dara, a popular music critic on the Cambodian Television Network (CTN), said the song was well-written and that he believed the boxing federation was ashamed the secret about its fighters lives was out.

“It is a fact. Look at Eh Phuthong,” Dara said, referring to Ot Phuthong’s older brother, perhaps the most famous Cambodian boxing champion. “When he left boxing, how does his life look? Sometimes, he has to bring his children to go and do construction work.

“This song seems like a real story about society,” he said. “It is about freedom of expression . . . and this is the talent of the writer. I think the Ministry of Culture should not put pressure on the singer.”

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