from The Cambodian Daily, May 17, 2000
Musicians Proving Their Will To Survive Is Well-Tuned
Sous Somaly was so hungry for music after the Khmer Rouge were driven
from power that she made herself ill, straining to make up for lost
Three times, she burst blood vessels in her throat
as she struggled to master the breath control needed to play traditional
But she wouldn't quit "I said I don't care if
I die, playing music I love," she says. "I had lost so many
members of my family that I figured, what does it matter?"
One scholar wrote that the slaughter between 1975-79
reduced Cambodia's population of 380,000 artists and intellectuals
to about 3,000.
Among those survivors were Sous Somaly, Chhorn Samart
and Ruos Visna, who will present a free concert of Khmer traditional
music tonight at 6 at the Reyum Gallery, on Street 178 across from
the National Museum.
The musicians say it will be a rare opportunity for
audiences to learn about Khmer instruments and the history of traditional
music. Commentary will be in Khmer and English.
The musicians, who are in their 40s and 50s, were
all aspiring artists before the Khmer Rouge came to power. They soon
learned they needed to hide their abilities in order to survive.
"I lied, and said I was just a farmer,"
singer Ruos Visna said. But, she said, "I used to sneak off sometimes,
and sing for myself."
In 1979, the musicians gravitated to the Department
of Performing Arts at the Ministry of Culture. From an initial group
of about 10, the department now numbers more than 300.
Chhorn Samart, who both sings and plays a variety
of instruments, had begun training as a classical dancer before the
"We just tried to stay alive, and not show what
we knew," he said. With the population of artists decimated,
many took up additional instruments or disciplines.
In addition to tonight’s concert, the gallery
will also host an evening of Khmer dance and music Saturday at 7:30
PM, including excerpts from the Lakhaoun Khaol classic drama and the
Small Shadow Puppet Theater.
Both performances win be free, but the audience is
encouraged to make donations. The performers earn less than $20 per
month and supplement their incomes with such private events.