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MY PHNOM PENH: Keat Sokim Musician

Keat Sokim is an assistant instructor of chapey dong veng at Cambodian Living Arts, teaching students how to play the traditional two-stringed instrument (the chapey).
Keat Sokim is an assistant instructor of chapey dong veng at Cambodian Living Arts, teaching students how to play the traditional two-stringed instrument (the chapey).

MY PHNOM PENH: Keat Sokim Musician

Keat Sokim Musician Keat Sokim is an assistant instructor of chapey dong veng at Cambodian Living Arts, teaching students how to play the traditional two-stringed instrument (the chapey). This week, he sat down with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon to talk about his passion for the art form – which was just inscribed in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list – and how it has shaped his life in Phnom Penh

Sisowath High School

Sisowath High School

I first discovered chapey by contacting Cambodian Living Arts – they offer many classes in different art forms. Sisowath High School – where I graduated in 2005 – is the first place where [CLA] presented chapey to hundreds of students. It was very interesting for me to come back and do the demonstration there. I could see that the students now are very different from [the students] in my time. During my time there, there were not many art programs at school, so the students did not know much about the traditional arts. When I came to Sisowath with my chapey [in 2013], I was so proud to demonstrate it to the new generation of students.

Long Borarith’s chapey workshop

Long BOrarith’s chapey workshop

We don’t know where chapey comes from or exactly when it was born. I am not sure how many instrument makers there are in all of Cambodia. In Phnom Penh, you can find chapeys at Phsar Dey Hoy, but I would recommend a workshop that is run by one of our former CLA students. It is just opposite the CTN television station [on National Road 5]. He makes mainly chapeys in the traditional style, but he has also developed an electric chapey that works well with an audio system. There may be others, but as far as I know, he is the best electric chapey maker.

Doors music and tapas

doors music and tapas

Doors is near my house. They used to have a lot of traditional instrument concerts there. It is where I played chapey for the first time with a pop band, and it was also the first time that I could make money from [performing] the instruments. I like to play just the instrument, because I think I cannot sing. I think it is a good idea to play traditional instruments with a pop band for a contemporary audience; it can [introduce] youth and foreigners to traditional music. Otherwise, in public, I have played chapey dong veng in front of the National Museum – I can earn maybe 10,000 riel (about $2.50) each time playing outside the theatre when there are traditional dance shows.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

There is a lot of music at the Royal Palace. I think that chapey dong veng should have a presence there, as it is the most attractive place to tourists and locals. We haven’t had performances at the Royal Palace, but if they need musicians to play for royal ceremonies, the officials contact musicians from outside – often people from the Ministry of Culture or teachers at the fine arts schools. On the left side [of the palace] – in the former elephant stables – there are many shops that promote Cambodian culture and traditional arts. I think if there was the chance to present the chapey [there], more people would be interested.

The Ministry of Culture and fine arts schools

The Ministry of Culture and  fine arts schools

We would like to develop a specific chapey curriculum, starting with beginning exercises that we have never done before. It will make it easier to learn chapey dong veng. If we want to safeguard the instrument, we need to create educational methods to transfer the knowledge – we need to be creative and innovative. Now we don’t have the music notation and we don’t have any records of reference; most of the time, we just search on YouTube. I think the ministry and the schools of fine art [secondary and university level] have the specialists to help develop a notation. I would really like for them to be involved in the preservation.


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