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UNESCO bid to save dying music style

Master Kong Nay mesmerises listeners on his chapei dong veng.
Master Kong Nay mesmerises listeners on his chapei dong veng. Scott Howes

UNESCO bid to save dying music style

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts plans to seek UNESCO cultural world heritage status for the traditional music known as Khmer Arak, an art form they believe is in danger of disappearing, ministry officials said yesterday.

Thai Norak Sathya, secretary of state for the ministry, said his colleagues hope to put in the request this year. “We are taking care of the most endangered type [of music], such as Arak bands,” he said.

According to Norak Sathya, Arak is the oldest type of local music, and originates from the animist spiritual beliefs of early Cambodians.

It is performed with the aid of such musical instruments as the flute, drum, tro and chapei (two types of stringed instruments).

The music is a form of prayer that was thought to drive out illnesses. But as the country adapts to modern medicine, Arak is in danger of dying out, he said, and few young Cambodians know about it.

Khat Sokhim, head of a traditional Arak band, welcomed the proposal. “Some children do not know the old music; only the old musicians can play it,” she said. “If the ministry can do this, I totally support it.”

UNESCO was not available for comment yesterday.

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