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Khmer ‘Golden Voice’ graphic novel arrives

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(From left) Ros Saboeun, Dy Saveth and Sin Setsochhata attend the Golden Voice: Khmer Edition graphic novel launch on November 30 at Bophana Centre. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Khmer ‘Golden Voice’ graphic novel arrives

An event to launch the Khmer-language version of the graphic novel “The Golden Voice Queen” – which is about the life and career of one of the Kingdom’s most famed singers, Ros Serey Sothea – was attended by a large crowd of hundreds of young people on November 30.

The launch of the graphic novel “The Golden Voice Queen” was held at the Bophana Centre on the evening of November 30, with the singer’s sister Ros Saboeun in attendance as well as veteran actor Dy Saveth and Sin Setsochhata, the granddaughter of the equally legendary King of the Golden Voice, Sin Sisamouth.

The 200-page graphic novel describes the life and career of Serey Sothea, who was active in the golden age of Cambodian music in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Khmer version was published by Avatar, which purchased the rights for translation in Khmer from its well-known American author and artist, television producer Gregory Calhill and Kat Baumann, respectively.

The graphic novel tells the singer’s life story while also highlighting her music, with 47 of her songs available to stream via the publisher’s website and instructions within the text regarding when each song should be played, providing an interactive soundtrack to the graphic novel that is intended to provide an increased level of immersion in the text along with additional insights about the singer’s music.

The book is selling for just $12 and the first edition has a limited print run of 2,500 copies.

“Part of revenue from selling this book will give to the family of Saboeun,” said Huot Socheata, founder of Avatar Publishing.

“On the opening day on the evening of November 30, we sold about 10 per cent of the total press run, with some online orders that haven’t been picked up yet,” she said.

Saveth, a 78-year-old veteran actress, performed many of Serey Sothear’s songs over the years. She expressed her excitement about the event, the graphic novel and would it mean for Serey Sothear’s legacy.

“When I performed her songs, I’d always rehearse to make the performances fit with the song’s meaning. I learned to sing in part through her songs,” she said.

Chea Sopheap, executive director of Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre expressed his surprise at the number of youths participating in the launch event who bought books.

“I am happy to see that our younger generation is interested in books. This is a good sign showing the depth of the spirit of Khmer children, who seem to tend to like to read Khmer books about Khmer art and the identity of Khmer nation,” he said.

Although she is a more modern singer in terms of her choice of presentation and material, Setsochhata expressed her happiness to see the book get such a big welcome from the gathered crowd.

“Even though I am of the next generation, I still support the original legacy of the songs of my grandmother, Serey Sothear, who was my grandfather’s singing partner,” she said.

Serey Sothear’s beautiful voice was recorded for hundreds of songs between 1967 and 1975, which earned her the title of “Queen with the Golden Voice” from the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

She died during the upheaval of the Khmer Rouge period and the exact circumstances of her death have never been determined conclusively as there are multiple sources who were present in the Kingdom at that time who all make contradictory claims as to her fate. Sadly, they all agree on one thing: Serey Sothear did not live to see the end of Pol Pot’s regime.

She was born on November 6, 1947 in Wat Kor commune’s Damnak Luong village of Battambang province’s Sangke district. During her musical career she sang all kinds of different genres of music with varying styles, demonstrating the broad range of her talents. She recorded roughly 500 songs in total in just an eight year stretch.

Huot Socheata was also involved in making the deal to purchase the rights to the graphic novel to publish it in Khmer and she described the events to The Post.

“Regarding the project to translate this book, I first saw a social media promotion for “The Golden Voice “ and I contacted them to ask whether they had published it in Khmer. They said no. So we made appointments with them two to three times to negotiate to buy the translation rights and we reached an agreement on it without much difficulty,” Socheata told The Post.

The Avatar Foundation was established in 2022 with plans to publish original and translated high quality graphic novels, comic books and manga in Khmer.

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