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Deav Bora, 30, waits to perform at Diamond Island Hall on July 24
Deav Bora, 30, waits to perform at Diamond Island Hall on July 24. Bora, a yike singer, is from Banteay Meanchey. Charlotte Pert

Song contest helping to preserve nation’s culture

The winners of an international Cambodian music contest featuring contestants from the Kingdom and its diaspora will be announced this afternoon on Koh Pich after two weeks of competition.

The Universal Khmer Song Contest 2014, hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, aims to promote long-standing traditions while encouraging musical innovation among Cambodians.

Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeung Sakona said at the event’s opening that she hoped to foster passion for the national culture plus bolster Khmer identity worldwide.

“Encouraging people, particularly the young generation, to preserve Khmer classical songs and to promote modern songs and poems will keep [the songs] in Cambodians’ hearts forever,” she said.

Four categories are included in the competition: mohori (traditional string music), yike (a form of dance drama), smut (musical poetry) and contemporary musical arts.

One man and one woman from each category will be awarded first, second and third places, making for a total of 24 winners.

The local contestant pool was selected by a nationwide committee organised by the ministry, while overseas Khmer institutions selected competitors from the US, France, Australia and Canada.

The contest began on July 17 with 132 competitors, which was reduced to 84 on July 24 and then to the 40 finalists by the conclusion of the second round on Sunday. Judges include musicians, ministry officials and members of various Cambodian cultural institutions.

Deav Bora, a 30-year-old yike singer from Banteay Meanchey province, said she was overjoyed to attend the contest.

“It was good because we can learn from more people who got to come here with talent to show on the stage,” she said.

Sothea Rath Chan, a 24-year-old Cambodian-American contestant, said he was happy to help revive his heritage.

“I thought this event was very good because it shows about Khmer identity, to remind us of the classical songs on the stage, and I want to keep my country’s heritage forever,” he said.

But it was not just the young who came out to promote Cambodia’s musical heritage. Phon Sokhom, a 55-year-old smut contestant from Prey Veng, said he wanted to help ensure the transmission of traditional culture to the next generation.

“I think that if there was not this kind of contest, Khmer classic songs will become extinct,” he said.

He added that foreign pop styles, such as those from South Korea and Thailand, risk supplanting Khmer music.

“I hope to see that young people might preserve and promote our Khmer culture by not using only foreigners’ culture more and more.”

Yun Theara, general deputy of techniques for Intangible Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the dwindling popularity of traditional arts made the turnout all the more impressive.

Ultimately, Sokhom said, the contest is not about who is the “best”.

“I am happy when I see young people come here to show their hope with smiles,” he said.

The contest will conclude at Diamond Island Hall on Street 154 at 4pm today.

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