I'm going to review all my Cambodian music in one post because I honestly can't imagine that there will be very many people interested in it. I am not a fan of world music. I generally hate things sung in a language I don't know (exceptions: Rammstein, 1960's French music, and Chicos del Sabado). I speak fairly fluent Khmer, so I can dig on Cambodian music. I don't expect anyone who doesn't have a connection to Cambodia to care about this post at all. Just move along. Oh, and I romanized the titles of these albums as best as I could. Blogger doesn't recognize Khmer script.
Musicians of the National Dance Company of Cambodia - Homrong- This is one of three discs of traditional Cambodian music that I purchased during my time in Cambodia. Much of the music on this disc is accompaniment for Apsara dancers, a traditional Cambodian form of dance that dates back several centuries (before the advent of shirts, if you can believe it). Anyway, it's a nice overview of some of the traditional Cambodian musical forms and instruments. I am an especially big fan of the final track, which is a single unaccompanied voice singing from the point of view of a mother talking to her child about the horrors of the Pol Pot era. If you want traditional Cambodian music, this is a great place to start.
Cambodia: Folk and Ceremonial Music - This is another disc of traditional Cambodian music. It compiles a number of musical forms including weddings, boxing matches, shadow puppetry, and dance. The main reason I bought this album was for the boxing music. I've been to some kickboxing matches (Brodal Serey Khmer is a much more brutal form of kickboxing than Muay Thai, and the world would know it if Cambodia had been taken into the British, rather than French, empire) and I absolutely loved the music and the pageantry of the pre-match ceremonies. I could take or leave a lot of the rest of the music, but the Phleng Khlang Khek is fantastic.
The Music of Cambodia Volume 3: Solo Instrumental Music- This is a good overview of what some of the traditional Cambodian instruments sound like in solo performances. There are some masterful performances on instruments such as the tro, khloy, chapey, and sralai. The main selling point of this disc is that they actually captured a performance on the kse diev, a rare zither-ish instrument with an open gourd which, when cupped against the chest, forms the sound board of the instrument. Playing the kse diev involves continous cupping and uncupping of the goard against your chest as one hand plucks the string and the other works the fingerboard. It is notoriously difficult to play and very few people in the world have mastered it. The kse diev performance on this disc has a few notable mistakes, but it is one of the very few places where you can hear this rare instrument. One can only hope that as the Cambodian government and economy stabilizes (it's been in the process of stabilizing since the eary 90's. On a positive note, it has gotten somewhat better) more Cambodians will take up the kse diev and keep this ancient tradition alive.
The Best of Cambodian Oldies - Phteah On Kbae Phnom Sompeauv- Very few musicians have meant as much to their homeland as Sin Sisamouth has to Cambodia. He is a shining light from the pre-Pol Pot era. The older generation in Cambodia reveres him as a master songwriter and singer, and the younger generation is brought up with a respect for what the man means both symbolically and musically. More than once, Cambodians took time to tell me just what a talent Sin Sisamouth was. Every place name in Cambodia has a story behind it, and the legend of Sin Sisamouth is that he would write a song for every single place he ever visited. This may very well be true because, even though much of his music was destroyed in the Pol Pot era, large amounts of Sin Sisamouth have survived, and most of the music is in some way related to place names in Cambodia. This disc, while claiming to simply be Cambodian oldies, is pure Sin Sisamouth. I do have more of his music tucked away somewhere, but I don't know where it is at the moment. Anyway, Sin Sisamouth is the greatest Cambodian musician ever, and this album is proof.
Meng Keo Pichenda - Min Chua Te Ne! - When I first arrived in Cambodia in 1998, two things were very big in terms of popular music: 1) Celine Dion's horrible song from Titanic, a movie I refused to see and still have not seen until this day. But yeah, I heard that freaking song at least 10 times a day in Cambodia because they were playing it everywhere. 2) Meng Keo Pichenda. She was the biggest musical star in the country at the time. I bought this album for one song: "Bong Khmau Ruh Bropon." It was being played at a lot of weddings at the time, so it seemed like the sort of thing I should own. There aren't that many hits on this album, but it's still some of the best Cambodian music of the late 90's.
Meng Keo Pichenda - Bomg Kom Tuo Na! - Now here's an interesting approach to an album that you'll never see in America. There are three bona fide hits on this album: "Bong Kom Tuo Na," "Srolanh Broh Songha" (which was the biggest Cambodian language hit of the 90's) and "Min Thomada." Each of these songs appears on the album twice, once with Meng Keo Pichenda singing, and once with her male backup singers singing. The male backup dancers generally sing in a different key, and are usually off pitch as well. It's just disconcerting to hear the exact same song you just heard only with poorer vocals in a different key. My brain has never gotten used to it. Anyway, you would never see that in American music. As it stands, this album does have three hits, even if the rest of it is a whole lotta confusing filler.
Preap Sovath - Prom Sneh Bong Tuo - When I first arrived in Cambodia, Preap Sovath's star was on the rise. Now he's the biggest male performer in the country (he even got dreadlocks and attempted to rap at one point. It was an odd career move). I actually met him once and he seemed like a nice guy. Anyway, I bought this album for one song: "Apsara Krong Kampuchea." In this song he sings with a northern Cambodian accent, which is vastly different from the Phnom Penh accent I was used to (I still have a hard time understanding people from Battambang). Aside from that one song, there are a few half-decent ballads on this album and not much else.
Preap Sovath - Mian Thmey Mdec Min Brap - Now this is a great Cambodian album. It contains all the awesomeness of "Mian Thmey Mdec Min Brap," which was a huge hit in 2000. It also has a number of other ballads and dance numbers, all of which are pretty great. If you buy only one Preap Sovath album, this is probably the one to go with.
4 Strong - Kom Chua Lu Promh Lecet - Of all the modern Cambodian music in my collection, this is far and away my favorite album. I know all these songs by heart, and when I get the hankering for some good ol' Khmer music, this is usually what I reach for. I don't know why this group wasn't a bigger deal (they were fairly big for a short time, and broke up. I believe all the members of the band are still in music, but sadly not together). I met Sovanthida at Lucky Market once, and she is one of the most beautiful Cambodian women I have ever seen. Anyway, this is the best Cambodian album I have ever come across. I especially love the re-imagining of the Backstreet Boys "I Want it That Way" (they basically turn it into a song in which, through promising he doesn't have ulterior motives, a guy friend-zones himself. It's pretty awesome).
EV - Som Chrok Knong Beh Dong - I own the first album by this group on cassette, and it has the greatest Khmer ballad I have ever heard. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find that album on CD, so I figured another album might be just as good. It isn't. It's not bad, but it's not as good as I wanted it to be.
Bayarith nung Leakana - Yol Prom Sneh Bong - This album is a fine example of nyeak music (nyeak means to move in a jerking motion), or as the rest of the world calls it: techno. There are a few good nyeak songs on this disc, but the best Cambodian nyeak song of all-time is "Khmas Ian Ey On," which is the first track on this album. Oh, and one of my all-time favorite ballads is on this album as well: "Beh Dong Krodah." All in all this is a nice album to own.
Bayarith nung Leakana - S'at Ot Toah - How did I review a single Bayarith album and not mention the fact that he looks like a Cambodian Peter Lorre? I dunno. Anyway, I loved the first Bayarith and Leakana album so much, I went back for seconds. This album is okay, but not as good as the first.
Sovanthida nung Endi - Khmau Nih Na Cha - I believe this is the first post-4 Strong album for Sovanthida, but I could be wrong. Anyway, this should be a great album because this is the best half of 4 Strong. unfortunately the songs aren't that strong. "Turosap Rok Sneh" is particularly bad. It's just sad because I know these guys can do better.
Now did anyone bother to read the reviews for each and every album? Yeah, I didn't think so.