As the Kingdom ends a week marking its 62nd year of independence, musical artists will gather this Saturday to celebrate Cambodia’s most recognised artist, Sinn Sisamouth.
“It’s Time to Give Back: A Tribute to the Golden Voice of Cambodia”, Sinn Sisamouth will feature performances by 17 artists including Sisamouth’s grandson, Sinn Sethakol, alongside surviving members of the bands Golden Voice and Drakkar.
The concert will benefit surviving artists and their families, and be a moment to reflect on the significance of pre-Khmer Rouge musical culture.
It will also seek to provide intellectual property (IP) rights for the families of artists. Such rights have previously been nonexistent – allowing the media and entertainment industry free usage of the music of Sisamouth and others.
Sponsor Smart will create a special collection of Sinn Sisamouth’s songs and make them all available in the Smart Music App, according to Smart CEO Thomas Hundt.
According to Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, copyright law is “extremely important, because it will bring more creativity and more flavour to the society”.
Chhang said that while the concert was intended as a celebration, it was also “an opportunity to look back and think [about] what we have done, what has been destroyed, and what is the turning point of our culture”.
A “search for identity” underlies the question of how Cambodians grapple with the cultural destruction perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, Chhang said. He highlighted the fact that “golden age” music, while popularised and packaged in Phnom Penh, was “deeply rooted” in the Cambodian countryside.
“Sisamouth is from Stung Treng, and Ros Serey Sothea is from Battambang … it’s the music of the countryside,” he said.
“People singing in the rice fields; every kid that takes care of cows and buffaloes can sing; every girl in the rice paddy … music is a way of life for the Khmer people.”
The place of Cambodia’s golden age musical heritage in a modern and increasingly urbanised country, Chhang said, is “a question of what our priorities are: revival, preservation, modernisation … there’s a lot to do”.
“I think a lot of young people listen to the old music and they feel wowed. They ask themselves: ‘Can we do better than this?’ But the first step is to regain what was lost,” he added.
Oum Rotanak Oudom (also known as “Oro”), the curator of the Cambodian Vintage Music Archive, plays an active part in the ongoing process of securing musical rights for the families of golden age singers by collecting the evidence needed.
Oro, who is seeking a publisher for a history of Cambodia’s 1960s artists and recording industry, feels Sisamouth embodies a generation of music that is “timeless”.
“Sisamouth is an icon to all Cambodians. He represents the culture, soul and spirit of the nation,” he said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Youk Chhang, who adds that he is confident that Sisamouth’s legacy will live on, extending beyond the country’s borders. “Fifty years from now, Sinn Sisamouth will be orchestral music; it will be integrated into the global community.”
After all, he concludes, “Music is within all of us.”
It’s Time To Give Back starts at 6pm tonight, at Koh Pich Theatre