Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traditional music revival crosses language barrier

Traditional music revival crosses language barrier

Traditional music revival crosses language barrier

CAMBODIAN singers of the traditional Khmer music known as kantrum are losing out in popularity to Thai singers. Kantrum has an up-tempo musical style which tends to  feature female singers.

A recent online poll on the Angkor Thom website voted Thailand’s Jane Saijai, 30, as a better singer in the kantrum form than Cambodia’s own Oeun Sreymom, despite her incorrect pronunciation of the Khmer lyrics.

Jane Saijai was born in Thailand’s Surin province, growing up after the Thai government enforced a ban on residents speaking and using Khmer language in the 1960s. This hasn’t stopped her becoming a popular performer of the traditional Khmer musical genre, having released up to 15 albums since she began learning music at the age of 11.

Her enthralling songs have reached out to admirers the world over through the Cambodian diaspora, with admirers not only in Thailand but also Australia, the United States, Germany and France.

Her music and lyrics are written in Thai script, which can lead to problems since most kantrum lyrics are sung in Khmer. However, this hybrid variety of kantrum known as Surin style has actually become popular in Cambodia.

Jane Saijai’s dialect is understandable to people from provinces such as Siem Reap, Battambang, Otdor Meanchey or Banteay Meanchey, though her accent makes it difficult for residents in the south of Cambodia to understand her songs.

“Composers here write the lyrics in Thai script, but because we’re singing in the Khmer language, sometimes we don’t pronounce words correctly because we don’t have the same vowel sounds,” she said.

She has released albums with both traditional musicians and modern electric instruments. Kantrum, a female song form thought to date back to the Angkor empire in the 7th century AD, is now being reinvented as music that can be performed by both men and women.

One man who is working to promote the style and culture in Surin province is Chey Mongkol, president of the Thai area’s Language and Culture Association.

Fearing that his beloved kantrum music would be lost if the Khmer language disappeared, he has established Khmer lessons to teach Thai singers the correct pronunciation.

Since 2006, he has taught more than 100 students in Thailand the basics of Khmer, which was traditionally spoken among the people in the Issan region of Thailand until the language was banned officially due to border disputes.

“Sometimes singers just sound out the Thai script even though they don’t understand the meaning and correct pronunciation of the lyrics,” he said. “Now more and more people have given up their mother tongue in favour of Thai, I was afraid that kantrum music would disappear at the same time.”

Chey Mongkol recently brought a troupe of Surin kantrum players to perform in Phnom Penh, and said he hoped to increase cultural exchanges by asking Cambodian kantrum musicians to share their skills with Khmer people in Thailand.

MOST VIEWED

  • Reuters: US Embassy fired 32 staff members for sharing pornography

    The United States Embassy in Phnom Penh has fired 32 non-diplomatic staff members who were allegedly caught exchanging pornographic images and video, including of minors, according to the news agency Reuters. Four sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the content was shared in

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Who’s Who: Sok Muygech is pushing the boundaries of sustainable architecture

    It’s just after two in the afternoon and Sok Muygech, director of BMK Architects, is discussing the details of a new interior design project with her six employees at the company’s office in BKK1. The small office that sits above an optician’s