Now live: the blind boys – and gals – of Siem Reap

Nang Sokearath, 25, doing his musical thing on an ork in front of Polangka Market.
Nang Sokearath, 25, doing his musical thing on an ork in front of Polangka Market. Thik Kaliyann

Now live: the blind boys – and gals – of Siem Reap

Nang Sokearath, 25, who leads his team of blind musicians performing traditional and wedding songs at the markets in temple town says, “I want to become a pianist.”

Becoming a pianist has been his ambition since he was seven, when his parents in Kampong Cham province decided to sell their land to pay for an operation on his eyes.

After the operation, Sokearath could see the world again and believed that his life would be better because he had regained his sight. But a year after the operation, he became blind again.

“I live in darkness and nobody can understand how hard this is,” he said. “When I became blind again, I really did not know what my future would be. I felt hopeless and thought my life was nothing when the doctor told me that my eyes could not withstand another operation.

“No one can help me”, he added, “But I told myself that no matter what happens, I will never give up hope.”

Every morning and afternoon, Sokearath and his team perform many songs in front of Leu Market, Po Langka Market, Krom Market and other venues.

“What I decided to do was to live independently, to manage by myself without needing help from my parents, and I wanted an acceptable and valuable job in society, even though I am a disabled person.

“Then, I had an idea of gathering blind people and disabled people who cannot really support their lives by themselves. I ask them about their hopes and dreams, and then we teach them music.”

Every day, Sokearath and his team perform many beautiful songs by famous Cambodian singer-songwriters from the 1950s to the 1970s, emulating the golden voices of Sinn Sisamouth and other singers such as Ros Sereysothea and Pan Ron.

“We love their songs,” Sokearath said, “We sing because we wish everyone to hear their songs every morning and evening. Then people will remember and they can sing too.”

He adds that because of his blindness he has never been able to see a photo of his singing hero. “I want one day to be able to see Sinn Sisamouth’s photo,” he said.

Life without sight is very difficult for Sokearath, who lives in a small rental room near Psar Leu. Each day his mission is to earn enough money to pay for his rent and food.

Some days he is deeply disappointed when someone yells out the word that all blind people don’t want to hear – ‘kvak,’ which is an informal and derogatory description of a blind person.

“Yes, I am a blind person,” he said, “But my heart is not blind. I have dreams like everyone does and I happy to help other blind people around me who have no skills. At least I want to give them hope and tell them not to give up.”

Beside honing his music skills, he is also studying massage and agriculture, and teaches his family and blind friends aspects of vegetable cultivation and animal feeding. He also passes on tips about massage techniques.

“Some blind friends of mine want to learn massage skills because they think there are many massage shops in Siem Reap and they could earn some extra money besides singing, so I decided to teach them,” he said.

But most of his blind friends really want to be in a successful music band.

“Music can bring the beautiful world to us,” he said. “My friends feel good when they sing. For me, when I sing a song about a river, that river’s picture will appear in my mind. It’s especially emotional for me,” he said.

Despite, Sokearath’s bad luck, he has enough ability to change his life by improving his musical skills.

“Our team is very busy in the wedding season because many people know that musicians can perform wedding songs well. They invite us to perform on their special day. We are glad that they didn’t discriminate against us.

“But I wish I could become a good pianist and see this beautiful world again,” he said.

To provide help or support, or to invite Nang Sokearath’s music group for weddings, parties or anything, please contact: 069 558 754 or 017 263 370.

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