Like the beginnings of traditional literature in Cambodia, music also took inspiration from India as well, heavily relying on various Hindu forms. Their music is highly integrated with dancing, most of the time, it’s difficult to make a distinction between the musical form and the dance that accompanies it.
The main instruments that are used in traditional music are the ching (a type of cymbal), gong, roneat (a xylophone made from bamboo), pai au (flute), sralai (oboe, because everyone needs someone to blame – sorry, that was the horn player in me speaking), tro (fiddle), and the chapey (a bass banjo – I had no idea there was such a thing). There are also several types of drums utilized as well.
Pop music comes in two forms: a moderately slow circle dance called romvong and danced by both men and women. The other form is called romkbach, which has been described as being closer to Thai music, music with a slower, more emotional melody line. Kantrum is a type of quick dance music played by the Khmer who live on the border with Thailand. Linguistically, it stands apart because it’s sung in both Khmer and Thai and switches between the two, even in the middle of a song.
Dance in Cambodia mainly falls under three different types: classical dance, folk dance, and social dance. Classical dance pretty much stemmed from the court dances where the dancers are dressed in intricate costumes. They’re performed many times for holidays and for tourists. Folk dancing is centered more about the people, where the dancers are dressed like farmers and peasants. Many of the themes of these dances are centered around love and folktales using animals and different scenes. Social dances are obviously danced in social situations, namely banquet parties. These different dances are accompanied by different kinds of orchestras consisting of various instrumentations.
Some of the most popular singers who came out of the traditional music genres are Sinn Sisamouth (probably THE most famous one), along with Ros Sereysothea and Pan Ron both of whom performed with Sisamouth. I found some of their music on Spotify, and it’s kind of a cross between the old crooners from the 1950s (a la Frank Sinatra) and 1960s psychedelic and garage band sound. I actually really liked it. Now as far as music of today goes, I discovered one of my new favorite bands: Dengue Fever. They’re actually from Los Angeles, California but combine Khmer music with psychedelic rock sounds. I absolutely love it! I had first picked up the album Escape from Dragon House and was completely enthralled with it. So much so that I went back to the library and picked up the album Cannibal Courtship. I also discovered a group called the Cambodian Space Project. It’s kind of the same genre of music; I wish my library had a copy though. It’s pretty cool stuff. I did find the album Not Easy Rock and Roll (which I’ve been listening to on Spotify) on iTunes for $9.99.
Up next: the food!