Should we listen to old songs and help preserve our cultural identity or should we embrace the modern, global society we live in and embrace Western styles of music? Or should we listen to some of both? There are plenty of reasons to listen to oldies and modern songs, it all depends on your preference. Lift set out to find out what is the difference between old and new music and what inspires the musical preferences of our readers.
Sitting on a bench and listening to music, Chum Sopea, a former radio presenter, described a surprising shift in his musical preferences. “Before I liked listening to modern music, but I have since started listening to classical music. I realise that old music can take care of my heart.”
While music of the ’60s and ’70s is often considered “more Khmer” than modern Cambodian music, it was also influenced by Western musicians and instruments. Yet the arrangement of the songs were unique to Cambodian song-writers, and as music composer Bin David explains, the way songs were produced made a big difference.
Because of a lack of technology, he says songs and melodies were written and produced over longer periods of time, given more thought, and thus had a longer lifespan. He says that new technology has made it very easy to produce a song quickly and without much thought to the meaning and lasting power of the song.
Meas Bopea, a composing manager for Rock Productions, agrees with Bin David. “These days the audiences’ demand for new music has increased so production must also increase,” he explained. This demand has caused companies to rush to put out new music and that is why “they are forced to copy the songs and music from other countries”.
Although it is clear that modern Khmer music has strayed from the classic singers of the ’50s and ’60s, one is not necessarily more relevant than the other. With a variety of influences including hip-hop and rap, Bin David says that “composers need to find a melody which matches the modern singer’s voice”.
Rather than deny the new influences, Meas Bopea suggests that composers take more time in their productions to create a sound that is both new and uniquely Khmer. “To maintain and develop our composing abilities and capacity, producers who have big budgets should create the new songs and new melodies to keep our identity alive,” he suggested.
So while producers agree that new music is inevitable, what do Cambodian youth think of music these days?
“The music from the past is nice,” said Pos Raty, a history student at RUPP. “I like the songs and music in the past because it is our own creation and we didn’t copy it from other countries.” But she does not ignore new music altogether. “I like and appreciate the new creations of some producers who try to create a new taste for us,” she explained.
Seang Kuroun, a freshman at RUPP, is even more open-minded in his listening habits. “I love listening to both old and new songs,” he exclaimed. “It just depends on my emotions.”
It seems that Khmer youth today still love the oldies, but are also ready for a new sound, just not copies of the songs being made oversees. Hopefully production companies are listening in. Additional reporting from Touch Yin Vannith and Cheng Lita