Music of Cambodia

The music of Cambodia is derived from a mesh of cultural traditions dating back to the ancient Khmer Empire, India, China and the original indigenous tribes living in the area before the arrival of Indian and Chinese travelers. With the rapid Westernization of popular music, Cambodian music has incorporated elements from music around the world through globalization.

Folk and classical music

Cambodian Art music is highly influenced by ancient forms as well as Hindu forms. Religious dancing, many of which depict stories and ancient myths, are common in Cambodian culture. Some dances are accompanied by a pinpeat orchestra, which includes a ching (cymbal), roneat (bamboo xylophone), pai au (flute), sralai (oboe), chapey (bass banjo), gong (bronze gong), tro (fiddle), and various kinds of drums. Each movement the dancer makes refers to a specific idea, including abstract concepts like today (pointing a finger upwards). The 1950s saw a revival in classical dance, led by Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearyrath.

Mid-twentieth century

Starting in the late 1950s, Head of State Norodom Sihanouk, a musician himself, encouraged the development of popular music in Cambodia. Initially, pop records from France and Latin America were imported into the country and became popular, inspiring a flourishing music scene based in Phnom Penh and led by singers like Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, and Pen Ran.[1][2] By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the scene was further influenced by Western rock and roll and soul music via U.S. armed forces radio that had been broadcast into nearby South Vietnam.[3] This resulted in a unique sound in which Western pop and rock were combined with Khmer vocal techniques.[4]

Many of the most important singers of this era perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Western interest in the popular Cambodian music of the 1960s-70s was sparked by the bootleg album Cambodian Rocks in 1996,[5][6] which in turn inspired the 2015 documentary film Don't Think I've Forgotten."[1]

Modern music

Classic Cambodian pop music, or modern music, includes slow, crooner-type music exemplified by songs such as Sinn Sisamouth's ឯណាទៅឋានសួគ៌? (Ae Na Tiw Than Suor?), as well as dance music. Dance music is classified according to the type of dance signified by the rhythm. The two most common types of Cambodian dance music are ramvong and ramkbach. Ramvong is slow dance music, while ramkbach is closely related to Thai folk music. Recently, a form of music called kantrum has become popular. Originating among the Khmer Surin in Thailand, kantrum is performed by both Thai and Cambodian stars.

Modern Cambodian music is usually presented in Cambodian karaoke VCDs, which typically feature actors and actresses mimicking song lyrics. Noy Vanneth and Lour Sarith are two examples of modern singers who sing songs on the karaoke VCDs, and the VCDs feature songs composed by other musicians, in addition to songs sung and composed by notable musician Sinn Sisamouth.


The 1960s are considered by some as the 'Golden Age' of Khmer music. Even today many weddings and social gatherings are dominated by the music from this era. Famous Cambodian singers of this era include Sisamouth; Sisamouth's main singing partners, Ros Serey Sothea and Pan Ron, So Savoeun . Many of the singers from this era will killed by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Production House Music

The majority of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian music is produced by a handful of production companies which include; Rasmey Hang Meas, Sunday Productions and Town Production. These companies function as the record labels within the Cambodian music business. Notable artists signed under these companies include Preap Sovath, Aok Sokunkanha, Sokun Nisa, Khemarak Sereymun and Meas Soksophea.

Original Music Movement

The Cambodian Original Music Movement refers to a group of young Khmer musicians in Cambodia who write, record and perform original compositions. This movement is described by some as their response to a copycat music culture, where many modern Khmer language songs copy the melodies and lyrical themes from nearly identical Chinese, Thai, Korean and American works.[7] Artists who are known in this movement include Adda Angel, Sai, Khmeng Khmer, Laura Mam, P-Sand, Nikki Nikki, Van Chesda, Sliten6ix, Sam Rocker, Kanhchna Chet, Sophia Kao and Small World Small Band (SWSB).[8][9] The genres of these musicians includes pop music, rap music, rock music and electronic music.

The #IAmOriginal project was formed in order to promote up and coming original artists. IAmOriginal identifies itself as a "non-profit music foundation aimed at promoting creative and innovative music in Cambodia by providing training, legal consultation, financial and marketing support to artists who are passionate about music."[10] They have released two albums and held concerts for each of the album launches. Many of Cambodia's young celebrities participate in this movement though showing support at events and through social media.[11]

A new project by Cambodian-American artist and entrepreneur Laura Mam, The Sound Initiative, also seeks to train and mentor new artists.[8][12]

Khmer Alternative Music

In recent years there has been a resurgence of creativity in contemporary Khmer art forms and music is no exception.[13] Cambodia's first alternative music label Yab Moung Records was founded in 2012 and has since recorded and released the first Khmer Hardcore and Death Metal tracks as well as producing a wide range of alternative artists creating unique Khmer blues, rock, hip hop and alternative music.[14]

Yab Moung Records provides an ongoing platform for Khmer alternative music and art and actively encourages creative expression within a uniquely Cambodian context.,[15][16] Yab Moung Records Official website

Mekong Delta Sunrise

A June 2013 media report revealed that Astronomy Class recorded with Cambodian singer Kak Channthy.[17] The Astronomy Class album Mekong Delta Sunrise was released in late April 2014 and Kennedy completed an interview with the Phnom Penh Post in early May. Kennedy revealed that the initial inspiration for the recording occurred during a six-hour taxi ride in Cambodia in 2012, as old mix tapes played music from the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian music scene in the car stereo. The journalist described Mekong Delta Sunrise as "an album that combines laconic Australian-accented rapping with snippets of Cambodian “golden age” rock ‘n’ roll."[18] When asked about what the group wanted to achieve with the album, Kennedy replied:

What we wanted to cover was our experiences of modern Cambodia and the history of the music that we were referencing. We wanted to try and tell some of the story of the Cambodia of the ’60s and ’70s. We had been excited by the songs that we were hearing and it didn’t feel right to rap just anything over it. We wanted for new listeners to understand something about Cambodia and the music.[18]

Kennedy further explained that samples that appear on the album were taken from a range of sources, such as the Internet, and that a percentage of the proceeds from the album's sales will be given to the families of the musicians whose compositions are sampled, an intention that existed from the outset of the album's creation. Kennedy said that the band will return to Cambodia in 2015 and Astronomy Class "will be making every effort to give back to the families of the people that we’ve sampled".[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 Sisario, Ben (9 April 2015). "'Don't Think I've Forgotten,' a Documentary, Revives Cambodia's Silenced Sounds". New York Times.
  2. Downing, Andy (28 May 2015). "Film preview: Director John Pirozzi traces the history of early Cambodian rock 'n' roll in "Don't Think I've Forgotten"". Columbus Alive.
  3. Novak, David (Fall 2011). "The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media" (PDF). Public Culture. 23 (3). doi:10.1215/08992363-1336435. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-23.
  4. Dow, Steve (13 September 2013). "Golden era of Cambodian music given its second airing". Sydney Morning Herald.
  5. "Dengue Fever and Cambodian Rocks". American Way. 8 April 2009 via Jack Boulware.
  6. Hanover, Matt (19 June 2015). "Today We Drink Wine: Looking Back at the Tragic History of Cambodian Pop". Loser City. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  7. Carruthers, Marissa (2 June 2018). "INDEPENDENT MUSIC SCENE IN CAMBODIA". Asia Life Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  8. 1 2 Alpuerto, Agnes (22 June 2018). "Night of original music". Khmer Time. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  9. Carruthers, Marissa (1 June 2018). "#IAMORIGINAL". AsiaLife Magazine. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  10. "Home Page". IAmOriginal. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  11. "Album launch of #IAmOriginal, Stronger, Together @ Hard Rock Café Phnom Penh". Khmer Times. 1 January 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  12. "Our Story". The Sound Initiative. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  13. "Phnom Penh's urban artistic renaissance -".
  14. "First death metal song in Khmer - new video by Cambodian metal band Doch Ckae - Unite Asia". 9 September 2016.
  15. "Punk Rock in Phnom Penh". 10 January 2014.
  16. "The alternative music movement".
  17. Claire Knox (21 June 2013). "The show must go on tour". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  18. 1 2 3 Will Jackson (2 May 2014). "7 Questions with Shannon Kennedy". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  • Clewley, John. "Heavenly Dancers". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 20–23. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
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