About a week after popular vocalist Khemarak Sereymon walked away from a traffic accident that killed four of his friends earlier this month along National Road 4, a song of his appeared on YouTube.
The mournful ballad didn’t cover the familiar territory of love and relationships. To the melody of Leonard Cohen’s Hallejujah, Sereymon’s crooning travelled into unfamiliar terrrority: traffic accidents.
“Drink too much and drive without thinking about the other people’ lives,” goes one lyric.
Whether because of his celebrity, the recent public interest in road safety, or a combination of both, the post started to rack up page views, accumulating more than 20,000 since first appearing on March 12.
Though initially thought to be an artistic response to the traumatising incident – which occurred on March 7 in Preah Sihanouk province when a Sok Korn Company truck’s container fell onto his car, injuring four and killing the other passengers – it turns out the song was in the works a month ago and had simply not yet been released.
First written and produced for Cambodia Television Network as a public safety message, the recording now seems strangely prophetic.
“Traffic accidents separate parents from their children forever,” Sereymon sang in one verse.
Victims of the crash on March 7 include Chi Vireak, 19, son of comedian Chuong Chi, also known as Neay Koy, and Each Vannak, 19, son of comedienne Noy Samnang.
The song could not have come at a more apt time. An average of five Cambodians die every day on the roads, and crashes are the second-leading cause of death in the country.
But it’s hard to tell what influence the song will have on the government, which is looking at passing a new traffic law, or the bad habits of drivers, whose speeding and drunk driving account for the majority of accident deaths.
Using celebrities to spread messages and raising awareness is “nothing new, it’s always been happening here,” said Sonny Krishnan, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, which is leading a massive road safety project.
Because of Sereymon’s stature and exposure, he said, the song could affect some driving habits.
“It has an impact in the sense that in communications theory, these people are role models. And audiences tend to emulate the behaviour of this person.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom and Joe Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org