Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Idol contestant in spotlight for reviving long-lost song



Idol contestant in spotlight for reviving long-lost song

Nhem Sreyvin, who recently performed a rediscovered version of the song Kampoul Doungchet on Cambodian Idol, with books about Cambodia’s history. Supplied/DC-CAM
Nhem Sreyvin, who recently performed a rediscovered version of the song Kampoul Doungchet on Cambodian Idol, with books about Cambodia’s history. San Bunsim/DC-CAM

Idol contestant in spotlight for reviving long-lost song

At just 21, Nhem Sreyvin is an old soul. The Khmer literature college student from Preah Sihanouk recently took to the stage in the hit show Cambodian Idol. But rather than seeking musical fame, Sreyvin’s motivation was to shed light on a long-lost song, one that has not been heard by most in Cambodia for more than four decades.

Amid a flurry of flashy modern pop tunes, Sreyvin gave voice to the almost-forgotten love song, Kampoul Doungchet, which roughly translates to “My Soulmate”, originally sung by famed 1960s singer and broadcaster Houy Meas in a now destroyed film of the same name.

“I am very passionate about the old songs. Even though I’m very young, I do not like modern songs. I only know how to sing the old ones,” Sreyvin said.

“It’s a love song which describes a relationship that is very lasting, never-ending . . . it’s not like the flower that one day wilts.”

Houy Meas, like many artists and intellectuals of her time, was killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. While there is not enough evidence to conclusively determine the circumstances surrounding her death, there are accounts that she was brutally raped and murdered by Khmer Rouge cadres in 1977, when they discovered her identity.

For the past three years, Sreyvin has volunteered with Soriya, a group dedicated to uncovering lost songs, films, posters and other cultural artefacts of Cambodia’s “golden era” that were lost under the Khmer Rouge, some of which have been literally unearthed.

“They considered these things as imperial, and so they destroyed them. Only those who are fans could dig a hole in the ground to preserve them,” she said.

In the case of Kampoul Doungchet, no one has seen the film since the early 1970s. The song was recovered just last year through oral history, according to Soriya researcher Rin Chhoum.

“We found it through three people, who called us and sang it for us,” he said. Forty years had passed, but the song stuck with them.

An album by Huoy Meas, who wrote the song Nhem Sreyvin recently revived. Photo supplied
An album by Huoy Meas, who wrote the song Nhem Sreyvin recently revived. Photo supplied

“They could remember the lyrics – they said the film and the song are very nice. And then we recorded their voices and made the melodies,” Chhoum said.

There are challenging points in the song Sreyvin had to master – when the singer asks her lover to lie down on her lap, she almost has to throw her voice, making it sound like the words are sung from a faraway place.
“Those parts are the hardest to sing, but that makes it most beautiful,” she said.

With the song’s theme of eternal love, does she have a soulmate of her own? “I obviously do not have at the moment,” she says with a laugh, “but to sing a good song, I have to put myself into the melody as if I have one.”

Sreyvin’s Cambodian Idol stint lasted from October last year until January, and she performed the song four times. Sreyvin said while the melody is close to her heart, she does not want to be a professional singer and is instead focusing her ambitions on composing and fiction writing.

Although she was not named a finalist or the ultimate winner, the judges were impressed by her mission and struck by the rediscovered song. Others, too, have been touched by Kampoul Doungchet. One woman living in America commented on Facebook that she remembered the song from long ago, before she fled war and mass murder for a new life abroad.

Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, was blown away by Sreyvin’s performances.

“Sreyvin represents the many young Cambodian women of today who want to be independent and making her choice for her own life, yet remains respectful to her own culture and tradition,” he said.

He was thrilled to see this almost-forgotten song brought to the national stage, when doing so in a previous era would have been considered a crime punishable by death.

“It’s intertwining past and present – the only way we can move forward and also restore the tradition,” he said.

“She may not be the Cambodian Idol, but she’s my idol.”

MOST VIEWED

  • No more Africa travel ban but new rules for arrivals

    The Ministry of Health has decided to lift the ban on travellers from or who have travelled through 10 African countries and instead issued a set of standard operating procedures to manage passenger arrivals at Cambodia’s international airports. The 10 African countries are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho,

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • PM blasts Vietnam general over Covid claims

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 6 expressed dismay after Vietnamese general Hoang Xuan Chien, formerly in charge of Vietnam’s border defences, claimed that Cambodia was a source of Covid-19 transmissions to the country. Speaking at the opening ceremony for National Road 11 connecting Prey Veng