It would be disturbing anywhere to see a mob gathered around a street-pole as an electrocuted utility-worker’s lifeless body was lowered down by rope as if lynched, but especially in a land with so many ghosts.
A reported three-million tons of carpet-bombs were dropped on Cambodia by the USA in the 1970s, more than were unleashed on Germany during all of WWII. Following the bombings, dictator Pol Pot seized the moment, emptying the cities into shells, then pitting
rural residents against the urbanites and launching a genocide that claimed somewhere around two-million lives (i.e., nearly 1/4th of the population). This particular holocaust was especially catastrophic culturally as it specifically targeted the artists and “intellectuals”, of whom it is estimated that less than 10% survived. During this period, daring to wear eyeglasses— which had become a stereotyped symbol between classes— guaranteed
almost certain death.
Musical director, flautist, and percussion player, Arn Chorn Pond managed to survive, first by playing music to entertain the Khmer Rouge troops, and later by himself becoming a child soldier against the Vietnamese, in a kill or be killed scenario. His weight had dropped down to 30 pounds due to lack of rations, before he was rescued by an American adoptive father.
“If you're a soldier, they will kill you if you cry. Now I cry and feel better. The turning point for me was learning to cry and listen to my own words, rather than just preaching peace and forgiveness to others.”
On the road to visit the legendary Kong Nai (“the Ray Charles of Cambodia”) we passed aging bomb-craters the size of ponds that had filled with stagnant rain water.
Parents commonly warn their children, “If you try to play like Kong Nai, you too will go blind,” as a way to scare youngsters away from music, so that they will hopefully instead follow some other, more respectable career pursuit.
When a young hipster from the city talked of knowing elders that played, “Country music,” it was intriguing. But upon further examination, it was discovered that what she meant was not cowboy hats and fiddles, but the murdered music of Cambodia’s own roots tradition.
There is an inherent disconnection of logic amongst Westerners that claim a culture like Cambodia, who speak a tone-language— where the meaning of many otherwise identical words is dependent on the pitch with which they are spoken— are not musical by nature.
And, prejudice’s self-destructiveness is nowhere more apparent than in the common underestimation of an entire racial group as “passive,” particularly one with such a history of upheaval, perseverance, and resistance.
released August 19, 2016
1. Phnom Domrey Trom (“Where the Elephants Go to Die”) vocals by Rab Ban, accompanied on Kann by Mon Hai
2. Pjanch Meah (“Defeat the Giant”) vocals & Chapey Dawng Veng by Soun San
3. Aasojet Anet Mai (“Have Mercy on My Mother”) vocals by Keut Rann
4. Orano (“I Hate My Husband that Drinks”) by Rab Ban
5. Jivit Rongkroh Proh Songkream (“My Life as a Victim of War”) by Thuch Savang
6. Kontriev Doeung Kon Mai (“All Children Must Show Gratitude to their Mother”) vocals & Chapey Dawng Veng by Kong Nai
7. Prolop Phkaypreat (“Evening Stars are the Masters”) sung by by Mon Hai
8. Kamara Rongkaam (“Nation in Grief”) by Kong Nai
9. Ao Sat Sarika (“Where Has My Husband Gone?”) by Prom Chantol with her daughter Ouch Savy
10. Boonchnam Kamkosal (“My Grief Begins”) by Kong Nai
11. Pineak Doeulang Knong Soun (“Walk in the Garden”) by Keut Rann
12. Phleuv Dail Treuv Deu (“The Path You Should Take”) by Soun San
13. Bong Euy Sdaap Pkor (“Hear the Thunder”) by Thorn Seyma with Arn Chorn Pond on flute
14. Preh Kon Euypok (“A Father’s Honor”) by Soun San
Produced and engineered by Ian Brennan
Mixed by Craig Parker Adams (Winslow Ct Studio [Los Angeles])
Mastered by John Golden
Music directors…..Thorn Seyma & Arn Chorn Pond
Photos & video by Marilena Delli
Package-art design by Ian Brennan, Layout by Daniel Murphy
additional musicians: Prom Cheang, Tat Neang, Hin Chumpoo, Chem Sreyny, Ngnek Sreyvong, Young Yorn, Ajathom, Chea Sean, and Kon Hiev
Special thanks to Thorn and family for the best surprise birthday dinner ever!