Article written by: Dom Vannak
ASEAN-Korea blog correspondent, Cambodia
Music came to existence in human life for more than 50,000 years. Music generally is not used only for the entertainment purpose alone. The creation of music is religiously believed that for the purpose of worshiping God and divine spirit to entertain them and ask for prosperity, happiness, forgiveness and many a times for recovery from sickness developing countries where the modern medical technology is limited. Music is definitely established for entertainment purpose as well.
Small introduction above, one can separate the music existence into two different origins, one is from religions and another from entertainment. Till the medieval period, music was still considered as the sacred one. The music usually did not come out of the royal palace since people believe that only kings could communicate with God and divine spirits.
In Cambodia, music is derived from both the traditional Khmer music dates from Khmer Empire period and also the growth of westernization of local music. The westernization of Khmer traditional music is seen to have influence from the West during the French colonyand post independence period.
Khmer music is divided into two, the Folk and classical music, and the popular music (mixture of western and classical music).
Folk and classical music:
During the ancient and medieval times, Cambodian Art music is highly influenced by ancient forms as well as Hindu forms. Religious dancing, many of which describes stories and ancient myths, are common. 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 recovery in classical dance, led and closely watched by queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearyrath (please read my previous article on Khmer Apsara Classical dance).
Today Khmer classical music has four sub famous different forms which are very famous in Cambodia society.
Pinpeat orchestra: pinpeat orchestra is mainly the instruments made from bamboo, drums made from cow skin and small metal gongs. Pinpeat is popularly used in the Khmer classical dance, Buddhist functions, funeral. There is a possibility of signer in this music but usually a rare case. In the royal palace, Pinpeat is always performed everyday as it is believed as the music for divine power and a pure form of Khmer music.
Wedding music: the pinpeat is not used for the happy occasion such as wedding. The instruments used for the wedding music is also different from pinpeat music. Although these music are categorized as classical music but the purpose is different. Please see and listen to the link below which is performed during the wedding day.
Pleng Arak (spirit music): spirit music has the same instruments like wedding music. The spirit music perform for spirits or devatas. It is performed to worship the spirits and ask for recovery of the sickness of person. This kind of music still exists in rural Cambodia.
Chapey: the chapey is a plucked string instrument from Cambodia. It has two double courses of nylon strings. It is performed popularly to sing story, myth, events in poems. The person who is using chapey is really talent in ideas of Khmer poem. There are only few old people in Cambodia today who can still sing. Please follow this link if you want to listen to the sound of Cambodian Chapey
Popular music or contemporary music:
Cambodian pop music or modern music is divided into two categories: ramvong and ramkbach. Ramvong is slow dance music, while ramkbach is closely related to Thai folk music. In the province Siem Reap, a form of music called Kantrum has become popular; originating among the Khmer Surin in Thailand, kantrum is famous for Thai and Cambodian stars like Darkie.
Cambodian pop music is also influenced by the western music. The traditional pop music in the contemporary Cambodia uses the western instruments instead of the old instruments. Many songs have been influenced by western music. Most popular singers in Cambodia are Sin Sisamut, who was considered as a king of Khmer pop music and Ros Sereysothea, the queen of Khmer pop music. They were killed during the Pol Pot regime.
There is another kind of music in Cambodian contemporary music. Music travels beyond border. Many music styles from around the world are also seen in Cambodia. Madison is very popular in Cambodia today and many more has been brought to Cambodians through movies. Thanks to the process of globalization.