VETERAN leading composer Pic Punnareay, of AM radio asserts:"Life is not easy
for a Cambodian writer."
Writing lyrics from the age of 16, he was
already popular by the time he was twenty.
In the late 60's and early
70's, his compositions were sung by the greatest performers of the time, such as
Sin Sisamuth, Ruas Srei Sothea, and Pen Ron - all victims of the Pol Pot regime.
Now, few recognize his face, but many know his voice from the radio and
his name is still well-known and respected.
These days, as for most
Cambodian composers, his songs are generally commissioned by foreign production
companies at $10 - $20 per song.
There are many cassettes with his music
in the market, but because Cambodian cassettes tend to list the name of the
singer but not the musicians or songwriter, they are difficult to
The money he earns from writing songs is not really enough to
support a family on.
"I need the money, but will not make something
without the quality. I want to keep my 'bon nom,'" he asserts.
Ironically, the sale of three songs is equivalent to a month's wages at
the radio station.
The musicians and singers who perform at the dancing
restaurants around Phnom Penh find the situation is the same.
day jobs at the television or radio stations or teach at the Ecole des Beaux
Arts for a monthly salary that is the same as their nightly income with the
"I was working with Care out in Pursat, earning
$180/month," relates Ra Tha, singer at the Ambassador hotel, "and I realized
that I can earn more in a nightclub than working at an NGO.
"It's a good
job because in the daytime we are free to do whatever we want.
musicians have jobs during the day, but I just sleep. Then at 4 o'clock I go to
play basketball at the Olympic stadium."
In almost all cases, restaurants
require the band to perform seven nights a week, every week.
confesses that he hasn't had a day off in over a year, "but it's still a
question of the money. I think you know about the economic situation in
Cambodia, so what can we do?"