Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A little fun with some very old and classic Khmer music from the 1960's. Believe me when I say that Cambodians still LOVE to listen to this. Not only that, but much of today's pop music sounds very similar to this but with updated instruments. I must say, I'm slightly hooked.
Khmer oldies collection distributed by Mietophoum in Long Beach

The following is a personal story (not from me) regarding the "discovery" of this classic Khmer music.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

By P. from Long Beach

Dear All,

About once a month, I would make my pilgrimage to the Mark Twain library in Long Beach to borrow some Khmer books to read. Today, on my way back home, I decided to stop by the Chaktokmouk (Riverside) market to pick a few odds and ends.

At the exit of the market, a small kiosk at one end of the parking lot caught my eyes and I decided to take a look at it. As it turns out, the kiosk was selling Khmer DVDs and CDs. What caught my attention was a display table that contains several CDs bearing the photos of old time Cambodian singers, such as Sin Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, etc… Out of habit, I picked up one of the CDs bearing Sin Sisamouth picture and started reading the song titles on the back cover. Ah! I said to myself, the song “Any” (one of Sin Sisamouth’s most famous song) is here, so I asked the salesman if it was the original version or one that contains a low quality version with new music added. He told me that his songs are all original version with no add-on music. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but asked him to try the song out for me anyway. As the old CD player belted out the song from Cambodia’s King of Crooner from the 60s, one man approached the kiosk and claimed: “You know what, it was because of that song that I lost my innocence back then!” He then proceeded to tell us that, in his youth, as a young soldier in the Lon Nol army, the song inspired him so much that, one day, as he met a woman by the name of Any, he lost his innocence to her. He told us that she already had a child when he met her, but it did not matter because her name was Any! However, his romance did not last, at the end, she apparently decided to marry an army captain rather than a simple soldier like him, and that was the end of Any and the “Pulto Aphoap” (sad private).

The anecdote above shows that for the majority of us, Cambodians, who have lived through many eras, listening to old songs bring us back a flood of memories. In my case, listening to these songs bring me back to a time before April 17, 1975. Back then, it was a rather pleasant life for my family (well, it was in fact quite painful some times after 1970) and on Sundays, after dinner, my family would all gather around an old radio set, listening to Sunday evening songs. Most of the time, if I remembered correctly, the evening would be filled with mainly Ramvong, Lam Leav songs, etc... I can still picture in my mind one of these evenings: my dear mother working at the table, my father reading something or another, other siblings trying to complete their homework for the following day. Being the youngest in my family, I would always bug my older brothers and sisters once in a while. After a while, my older sister would invariably chase me around to make me stop. To calm me down, my father would sometime punish me by making me stand on the table and giving out an impromptu performance of one of the songs on the radio. Of course, being tone deaf and not knowing any song in particular, I just yelled out anything that came to my mind to the giggling and laughing of my older siblings. Alas, those joyful moments did not last forever, since then, some of us have passed away under horrible circumstances, some of us survived but we are now spread all over the world. You can now easily understand my attraction to these oldies Khmer songs.

I ended up picking 6 CDs that cost me 20 bucks. The CDs are produced and sold by the “Mietophoum National Library and Cultural Center”, located at 2338 E. Anaheim Street, Suite 102, Long Beach, CA 90804, Tel: (562) 968-7188 and (562) 450-8756. As I was paying for the CDs, it occurred to me that there used to be a Mietophoum store on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach also. The salesman told me that he was the owner of that store and he now moved to his new place on Anaheim Street where he opened a library and cultural center. He told me to stop by some time to see his place. I agreed.

On my way home, I popped one of the CDs I bought into the CD player, it was a collection of songs by Mao Saret (see CD cover). I immediately recognized the first song, “Than Suor Kirirom” (Kirirom paradise), the music is inspired by a song by Kyu Sakamoto, a famous pop Japanese singer from the 60s. while the Japanese song title is “Ue wo muite arukou” (I look up when I walk, so the tears won’t fall), the English song title is usually know as “Sukiyaki”. I have attached here a low quality version of this song, I hope I will not get into trouble with the CD distributor, but I want all of you to hear this sample to have an idea of the song quality and clarity. “Reatrey Nov Saumur” (Night in Saumur) is an oldie song that I had never heard before. Knowing that Ms. Mao Saret was one of the singer usually featured in Sihanouk’s movies, I believe that this song could have something to do with the old king. Indeed, during the French protectorate era, a young king by the name of Sihanouk completed his military training in Saumur. Most likely, this song was part of the former king’s repertoire from that era.

Through this collection, I learned that our oldies singers were quite up to date for their time. For example, Kyu Sakamoto’s song was a top pop chart in the 60s and it was quickly adopted by Ms. Mao Saret. The CD also includes a plethora of other well known songs such as “Kun Meul Kang-ha Trov Khyol” (Looking at the wind blowing on the windmill), “Om Touk Rosay Rosat” (Rowing the boat here and there?), and the original interpretation of “Teuk Chruos Bou Sra” (Bou Sra water fall) by Mao Saret and Toch Teng. While I included here a sample of two low quality songs from the CD compilation, they do not provide justice to the original CD quality version. Therefore, I would encourage all of you, Khmer oldies buffs, to purchase these CDs for your own collection. The cost is somewhat expensive for a Khmer CD ($4 a piece, but if you buy 5, you get one free), but the quality of the songs and the CD covers are well worth it. I don’t know if Mietophoum has a website or not. In any case, I hope you could enjoy these oldies as much as I do.

When time permits, I will try to give a brief update of the other CDs I purchased.

Thank you for you for your interest!

P. from Long Beach

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Mietophoum, nor do I get any special pricing for my purchases from them.

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