Overlooked No More: Sinn Sisamouth, ‘King’ of Cambodian Pop Music
by Mike Ives published Sept. 9, 2021
“When it came to singing technique, Sinn Sisamouth was king,” Prince Panara Sirivudh, a member of the Cambodian royal family, said in the documentary. “His voice was so beautiful, and he wrote very sweet songs.” Popular Western music was imported to Cambodia as early as the 1940s by the royal palace and by Cambodians who could afford to travel to Europe, and the country’s rock ’n’ roll scene began in earnest in the 1950s, according to a study by LinDa Saphan, the associate producer of the documentary and a professor of sociology at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City. The sound blended high-pitched, operatic singing with the distorted electric guitar solos that were popular in American music at the time. Sinn Sisamouth became representative of this new style because he had an ability to write both ballads and upbeat rock songs, Saphan wrote, but the voices of Ros Serey Sothea and other female vocalists on his recordings were the “final touch that made this Cambodian mix so enticing.”
Early in his career, Sinn Sisamouth was invited to perform with Cambodia’s royal ballet; he appeared in dapper suits and bow ties, his hair combed back. He also traveled overseas — to India, Hong Kong and beyond — with a traditional band formed by the queen’s son, Norodom Sihanouk, a composer and saxophonist (and future king) who played a major role in developing the country’s cultural industries in the postcolonial era. It was a hopeful time in Cambodia’s history: The country had achieved independence from France in 1953 and was shaping its identity and culture. As Sinn Sisamouth’s popularity grew, his former neighbors in the countryside marveled at hearing his songs on the radio. Some referred to him as “golden voice” or the “Elvis of Cambodia.” “A medical student — how can he sing?” the villagers said at the time, his sister recalled in the documentary. He met Ros Serey Sothea when she was 17 at the national radio station and recorded with her for more than a decade. Though they were never romantically involved, “their musical conversations were love stories filled with a sense of yearning and despair, of palpable loss, yet holding out the possibility of reconciliation,” Saphan wrote.
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It’s so thrilling to hear Cambodian singers at the Kennedy Center, I feel they have been rightfully acknowledged.
It is with great honor that I stand here with the film’s director, John Pirozzi, to present our film and help kick off the re-opening of the Millenium Stage Summer at the REACH organized by Samasama and the Kennedy Center.
We’d like to thank the entire Kennedy Center team and Seda Nak and Les Talusan from Samasama for making it happen.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten itself is a celebration of the universal power of music and its ability to transcend borders and speak to so many people despite their cultural differences.
As it happens Cambodian popular musicians were particularly adept at synthesizing many different styles of music from all over the world and creating music that you may find familiar yet unique at the same time.
The film is a celebration of Cambodian musical creativity and the music’s resiliency.
Popular and Political Songwriting in Cambodia: From Sihanouk’s Prewar Golden Age to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge
By LinDa Saphan and Nate Hun
Hun, N., Kim, M., Lee, Y., Nelson, R., Oum, R. O., & Saphan, L.,(2021), The Golden Age of Cambodian Popular Music, Kim, M.(Ed.), Seoul: Hyunsilbook
김미정, 로저 넬슨, 린다 사판, 움 로따낙 오돔, 이용우, 네이트 훈, (2021), 캄보디아 대중음악의 황금시대, 김미정(엮), 서울: 현실문화
Music has been prominent in daily life in Cambodia since ancient times. Following centuries of political turmoil and warfare, Cambodia experienced a brief period of peace, prosperity, and modernization under King Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s and 1960s, leading to a flourishing of music in the form of romantic songs followed by the arrival of a Western/Cambodian mix of rock and roll. Ultimately the majority of modern musicians were killed by the Khmer Rouge for their “antirevolutionary” music. Since gaining independence from France in 1953, Cambodia has experienced a series of rapid political regime changes, each characterized by authoritarianism. Each regime, from Sihanouk to Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge, and Hun Sen, used music for political purposes. This chapter examines the lyrics of popular and political Cambodian songs from the prewar era to the Khmer Rouge (1953–1979), to understand how music both reflected and shaped changing sociopolitical currents.
Keywords: Songwriters, composers, Cambodia, popular music.
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Essay by LinDa Saphan and Kevin Cabrera
New York City has borne more than its fair share of trauma in the last 20 years. But traumas like the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 have revealed both the city’s toughness and its sociable, almost small-town side—exemplified in the Christmas tree subculture that is as much a part of holidays in New York as adorned shop windows on Fifth Avenue. Like Christmas, the vendors come every year. And in this pandemic year, particularly, they remain essential hubs of safe community contact, counteracting forced isolation. Since the end of the first COVID-19 wave, New York has been reinventing itself in creative ways—for instance, in the way it has created beautiful outdoor dining settings. The annual ritual of welcoming tree vendors, buying a tree, and carting it home in the cold should buck up New Yorkers as they celebrate the symbols—and substance—of their survivorship and goodwill.
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Cambodian Town Film Festival
September 17, 2020
Featured Guests: Davy Chou, LinDa Saphan, Arestia Rosenberg
Host: Kathryn Lejeune
Barcelona Friends, mark your agenda March 4th 2017 you can watch Nate From Lowell, MA directed by LinDa Saphan.
"The festival hopes to be the voice and representation for films with a unique voice and message, regardless of how low the budget might be.
Each month film industry specialists watch and vote for The Best of The Festival in each category. Aiming to inspire, motivate and award new talent."
We have been selected for Best Documentary Short. We are so excited!
BIAFF has selected Nate From Lowell, MA
by LinDa Saphan to be part of their upcoming 2016 BIAFF. Opening ceremonies begin December 22th at Bexco Center 211 ho, and close on the 23th at the Cinema Center Busan.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia Lost Rock and Roll had it world premiere in Phnom Penh in 2014. Since then the film opened in many other countries. The film was screened in many cities with a Cambodian communities from Paris (France), to Long Beach and Lowell in USA and Montreal in Canada among many others.
It is important to bring the film to the Cambodian people in the provinces- in the villages. Bayon Band – Samley Hong – once brought rock and roll on an oxcart in the village back in the 1960s, the film will have the same spirit.
The aim of the project is to bring the film to seven provincial towns for the people to have an opportunity to come together and celebrate its musical history, share their memories of the pre-war era, and commemorate the country talents.
Filmmaker and producer John Pirozzi and the head researcher, sociologist Dr LinDa Saphan will hold a Q&A after each screening, the audience will have first hand experience regarding the motivation, research process and behind the scene stories.
Nate from Lowell, MA. 7:07, Released July 2016. "About the importance of archiving memory through the lens of a record collector who preserved Cambodian popular music history."
In Cambodia, popular music has yet to be recognized as a part of cultural heritage. There are no institutions that preserve, archive, and research lost and hidden popular music.
An entire generation of musicians died along with an estimate 2 million people in the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979.
Nate Hun born in Lowell, MA began collecting and preserving prewar Cambodian popular music in his childhood, becoming an expert on Cambodian rock as a collector of records, tapes, and other memorabilia.
This short film is about Nate who is at the heart of preservation of Cambodian popular music.
Film by LinDa Saphan
Cinematography by John Pirozzi
Edited by Edmund Carson
Starring: Nate Hun and Samoeun Hun
INTERLACE: THREE ARTISTS IN THE CAMBODIAN DIASPORA
"Almost 40 years after the Khmer Rouge regime devastated Cambodian cultural production, artists are uncovering their own growth that formed out of the bloodshed. The genocide, which affected how Cambodians articulate their culture, perpetuated a mass exodus of over one million people who scattered across the globe to the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. Caught between identifying their sense of belonging in two (or more) different countries, Cambodian refugees that fled the genocide have experienced various moments of displacement, abandonment and cultural hybridity. InCube Arts Space’s “INTERLACE,” curated by Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, features three artists who weave into their work their personal life stories of growing up outside their homeland, as well as the challenges they faced while assimilating within a society that either ignored or misconstrued their native culture. Feeling stateless after fleeing their homeland, these artists have articulated and defined their own space through their artwork. They create their own metaphorical maps, illuminated with new shapes and border demarcations, through mixed media and performance art that reference childhood memories and practices that have remained throughout their upbringing abroad."