Keo Sinan, a former musician, has kept 401 vinyl records which date from the 1940’s to 1975 safe for more than 50 years.
Recently, the 78-year-old told The Post about his last wish. For more than 20 years, he has dreamt of opening a small museum in his hometown in Baray district in Kampong Thom province, to display the music of the Kingdom’s “Golden era” for the next generation.
Sinan was born in 1944 in Svay village of Baray commune and district, Kampong Thom province. He currently lives in Boeung Samreth village of the same commune. In his long life, he has been blessed with six children and 20 grandchildren.
He spoke to The Post at a November 30 launch party for Khmer edition of the graphic novel The Golden Voice Queen, which tells the tale of famed singer Ros Serey Sothea.
“Today I have 401 records of songs from the 60s and 70s, with about 900 songs. Most of the songs are by Sin Sisamuth, Ros Serey Sothea, Pen Ron, Keo Sokha (Keo Montha’s young sister), Nov Narin and a few other singers,” he said.
He used money from working at the Cambodia Cement Chakrey Ting Factory in Kampot province to buy records. While working there, he became close friends with musician Nop Neum, the younger brother of the actor Nop Nem.
He later began learning how to play the saxophone and trumpet, and learned to play the drums in 1963.
“When I met Neum, he taught me to play the saxophone, trumpet and drums. Realising that I was gradually becoming a musician, I started to buy songs to listen to and rehearse. I bought my first record in 1964 and my last in 1975, the year the Khmer Rouge regime came to power,” he said.
“I remember that between 1972 and 1975. I used to ride a bicycle from Kampong Thom to buy records in Phnom Penh,” he added, saying that he formed his own band called the “Kasekor (Peasant) Band” between 1969-70.
What is astonishing is the tale of how he preserved his collection during the dark years of the Khmer Rouge rule, where much of the Kingdom’s intellectual and artistic resources were deliberately targeted for destruction by the hated regime.
Sinan not only survived, but he was able to store the records safely. The oldest of them is now 58 years old.
He explained how he hid the 401 records in the sewer beneath the home of a family who were killed by the Khmer Rouge in Kampong Thma district, Kampong Thom province, where he was transported to by the regime.
He said that when he realised that the space would be large enough for his collection, he hid them securely. It was not until 1982 that he recovered them to play for his own entertainment. In 2008, he finally shared all of his precious musical memories.
“During the Khmer Rouge era, what kept me alive was that I was skilled at agriculture and could grow crops. Anyone who could grow vegetables was useful to the organisation. I was not detained or singled out like so many other artists were,” he added.
“Because of my skill in growing vegetables, I was able to save my life during the Khmer Rouge era and even save my record collection. Because I was farming, I had access to pesticides and was able to use some of them to protect my records from insects,” he continued.
Although he has kept his records safe since 1982, the secret of his collection was only revealed to the public in 2008.
“In 2008, I met Khuth Sokhoeun, who is a writer and lover of traditional music. He took photos of my records and wrote articles about them. The articles became famous around the Kingdom and even overseas. Both local and foreign journalists have comto interview me, although I must admit there has been a slight decrease,” said Sinan.
“In 2009, my records were copyrighted by a company and displayed to the public as photo albums at the Chenla Theatre. In 2014, they appeared at an art exhibition at the Koh Pich Theatre which was organised by the Sin Sisamuth Association. Sin Chanchhaya, the oldest son of Samuth, was the association’s president at the time. In 2016, they were brought to the National Museum of South Korea and exhibited there,” he added.
Many investors and even companies offered him thousands of dollars for his collection, but he always refused to sell. Even now, people have made standing offers to buy individual records from him for several thousand, but he refuses.
He did mention that journalists who wish to interview him usually offer some sort of gift of gratitude to him, and this helps him meet his monthly expenses.
“There was a time when a company in the United States wanted to buy the 401 records for $400,000. I refused to sell because I wanted to preserve and conserve my own heritage, which I worked so hard to save. Today, my records are still valuable. Many record companies and production houses would pay from $2,000 to $2,500 to use them as the basis of re-mastered releases of rare songs,” he said.
“Even though many people offered me large sums of money, I refuse to sell. I think that all of the risks I took to save them might become meaningless if I let them go,” he added.
“I am old and do not want to be rich. I want to keep what I have saved so that later generations will know what we were creating back in the 60s and 70s. I would really like to set up small museum in my hometown so I could show my collection to the public when they pass through Kampong Thom,” he continued.
Sinan is planning to take a selection of records to Battambang in early 2023 to share with younger fans.
“I think I will prepare a show at the end of February or in early March next year. I will select no more than 50 of records. I am getting older, and it is getting harder to travel so far from home,” he said.