Youth of the week: Seng Nalin

Youth of the week: Seng Nalin


Our student of the week will receive a $50 voucher from Boston Books. If you want to nominate a student or friend, email [email protected]

At the age of 19, most Cambodians embrace modernisation, enjoy K-Pop and tend to ignore Khmer traditions, but Seng Nalin is different. The fourth-year student at the School of Fine Arts has been obsessed with the idea of becoming a yike, or Khmer opera performer since she was seven. She is now recognised as one of the Kingdom’s most talented yike performers and has appeared on TV and on stages across the country.

Nalin is not the first person in her family to gain notoriety through the age-old art form. Her great-grandfather was an opera star in 1960s, and his example was followed by her grandmother, her mother and now Seng Nalin herself. In fact, it was while watching her mother and grandmother perform that she fell in love with the art form.

While she has already begun to learn yike at home, her formal education started in 2001 when Cambodian Living Arts hired her grandmother, also a former teacher at the Royal University of Fine Arts, to spread her love of opera to the country’s younger generation.

Her grandmother has a harsh style of teaching and Seng Nalin was unpracticed in dancing, singing, memorising scripts and changing her facial expression to fit the scene. When she stumbled, her grandmother often chastised or hit her. But this did not make her love of yike fade away. Instead, she tried even harder and always told herself that “my grandmother can do it, and my mother can do it, so surely I can do it”.

With daily practice sessions and hours performing in front of her mirror at home, Nalin became a skilled performer after only a year, while other students needed at least three years. Her first public performance was in Takeo province when she was just 12 years old. Since then, her popularity as spread nationwide; she has been invited to perform in 24 provinces and cities in the Kingdom.

Earlier this month, Nalin took the stage at Chaktomuk Hall and performed a story called Bird’s Love, which received a raucous ovation from both national and international audiences.

Nalin’s grandmother Khy Mum, who is now 76, said yike is her family’s legacy and they have struggled to keep it alive after 1979 when most performers had been killed by the Pol Pot regime.

“I am elated that my granddaughter has followed in my footstep as a yike dancer,” she said with a pride-filled smile. “She is ensuring that it won’t disappear from Cambodian society.”

Seng Nalin is wholeheartedly dedicated to doing what she can to pass it to future Cambodians. “If I get enough money, I will establish an association to pass down yike to the next generation,” she said.


  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman

  • Hun Sen detractors ‘will die’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said those who curse or insult him would eventually die without a plot of land to bury their bodies after being killed by lightning, suffering the same fate as those who recently died in Thmar Baing district in Koh