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Suon Sopheak, the band leader of Soul Fighters
Suon Sopheak, the band leader of Soul Fighters Eli Meixler

Not just for ‘the forest’: ancient sounds reborn

The Amatak Festival, which runs through Sunday, gives the stage to traditional performers – from buffalo horn players to poets and drummers

A haunting sound booms as Suon Sopheak gives a brief demonstration on how to play a buffalo horn, just one of his many handmade woodwind instruments. Troupe leader of the Soul Fighters, Sopheak is putting his own twist on a traditional Cambodian tale of fighters in the moonlight.

Tot Seyhan, on the left, and Pan Siltorn
Tot Seyhan, on the left, and Pan Siltorn Eli Meixler

His team of 15 will be one of 10 groups to play this weekend at the Amatak Festival, an event organised by Cambodia Living Arts (CLA) to showcase creative adaptations of traditional music.

Sopheak said he wanted to prove these arts, traditionally from the countryside, could be relevant to urban dwellers. “I want to show it in this kind of festival, because I want to show it to people who don’t know about this kind of thing; sometimes they just say this can only be played in the forest, not in the city,” said Sopheak.

The three-day festival, held in CLA’s theatre in the grounds of the National Museum, began with an invite-only opening event yesterday night and runs until Sunday night.

It will features a range of arts including a twist on the poetry smot, a woodwind and drumming troupe and a performance telling the story of Cambodian life through rituals and music.

Workshops and discussions focusing on lyric-writing, the history of arts in Cambodia and discuss the role of youth in Cambodia are scheduled for today and Sunday afternoon. Performances take place in the evenings.

Tot Chaya is the dummer of the band
Tot Chaya is the dummer of the band Eli Meixler

“We selected 10 troupes who emerged from our classes or who recently performed, and we asked them to create something new for the festival,” said Marion Goddard, communications manager at CLA.

The Amatak Festival replaces CLA’s previous festival, the Cambodia Youth Arts Festival. By encouraging troupes to create their own, original performances, CLA hopes to create a sustainable future for Cambodia’s art scene.

“The idea of sustainability is very important to us, because we think if artists or troupes or other arts professionals become self-sustaining, they can lead their own project and the impact of our work will be much bigger for our beneficiaries, but also Cambodia,” said Goddard.

Additional reporting Vandy Muong.

Workshops run from 2pm to 6pm and open mic night is from 5pm to 6pm at the University of Fine Arts. Performances begin at 6:30pm at the Plae Pakaa Theatre. Tickets are available at the Plae Pakaa booth at the National Museum and the Amatak Information desk at the National University of Fine Arts. Check cambodianlivingarts.org for more details.

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