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Art scholarships to save traditional talent

Art scholarships to save traditional talent

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Lun Chom Neta, 23, musician and one of this year’s arts scholarship recipients, is pictured in the Cambodian Living Arts office, in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Alex Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) has launched its second annual $1,200 arts scholarships for young people in the Kingdom who snub K-Pop in favour of classical Cambodian music.

Yesterday, the arts organisation, which aims to preserve traditional arts, started taking applications for the Chorn-Pond Arts scholarship, which is named after the organisation’s founder who credits the Cambodian music culture with saving his life.

Having survived the Khmer Rouge regime by performing for government officials as a flutist, Chorn-Pond believes that he is bound to keep alive the classical arts.

The scholarship will help develop young Khmer performers into artists and professionals who will keep traditional performing arts alive. “The aim of the CLA and the scholarship is to restore local Khmer art and then develop it,” said Chorn-Pond. “They offer an alternative to the Korean-Pop and Western cultures that many young people are interested in,” he said.

According to Chorn-Pond, the scholarship is a great opportunity for youth who are interested in local arts to attend schools, and develop skills that they otherwise would not be able to afford.

Alongside their country’s growth, Cambodian youth have developed a taste for foreign cultures – imported beers, massage parlours and night clubs. But there are some who want to remember who they are and where they come from.

Chem Sreyry will receive the scholarship for the second year in a row. Having studied the smot (a traditional Cambodian classical chant) for almost four years, she said the scholarship will allow her to continue studying English at the University of Cambodia while attending smot classes once a week.

The smot, which Sreyry, 19, describes as slow and sad, has become much less popular over the years as the younger generation moves to the city where it is exposed to more modern music. “Young people do not like the chants anymore,” she said. “They call it the ghost song because it is sometimes performed at funerals.”

The scholarship program which is entering its second year, managed to increase the number of awarded scholarships from six to 20 after receiving even more funding from donors throughout the country.

It is open to any Cambodian traditional arts student or professional and gives priority to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The applicants, who range between 18 and 33, study a wide variety of artistic traditions from circus to mime and dance to music.

Each successful candidate is awarded up to $1,200 a year to cover school fees and other study-related expenses. For 23-year-old Lun Chom Neta, the scholarship is an opportunity to continue his passion for the ksa-diew, a single-stringed instrument, which was passed down from his grandfather.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lionel Mok at [email protected]

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