Village People of Mondil Kiri and Kampong Speu, Cambodia –
After a restless night sleeping in a hammock, fleeing from scorpions and monsoonal rain, 13 teenagers, 3 facilitators and myself piled onto a bus to head into the forests of Mondil Kiri, the indigenous lands of Cambodia.
We were on a mission, to find the hidden voices of Cambodia!
Flying through crowded city streets, dodging dogs and crusty fractured roads, and passing though thick forests, our bus finally came to a halt.
Our masterful driver grinned widely.
Tribal elders warmly greeted us and led us slowly into a hut where a ceremony of calling the ancestors began. Huge gongs and chanting took over as smoke filled the hut. I felt like I was being transported back into a time where the dreamtime was more important than conscious time, it was mesmerizing.
Our focus for this trip was to bring together the younger generation with the older, to search for the endangered hidden songs of Cambodia, to record and document them. Our hope was that the students would pick up some of these songs for their own repertoire, experience the stories and keep them alive by performing them.
Over 6 days, we travelled through Provinces and slept within the heart of village life. The students interviewed senior song keepers in markets, around campfires and under trees. What emerged were songs filled with joy, fragility, beauty and sadness. It was incredibly moving to witness.
In Cambodia, once known as the ‘Jewell of Asia‘, 90% of musicians, singers and artisans were killed during the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime, which was only 40 years ago. The loss of the song lines is tangible, the silencing and swallowing down of voices is potent, with the cultural trauma too painful to be spoken. Many of the present young generation know very little of what happened, only that they may have a portrait of an elder hanging on their wall, with whom they will never know personally.
To see the eyes our Liger students light up as they interviewed grandparents, uncles and aunts; to experience them singing along with fragments of songs as their village elders giggling their way through songs, left me with a heart soaked in goodness and hope.
What power there is in the human voice to connect heart to heart, to communicate that we hear you, acknowledge you and we care.
Trish Watts, VMTR
Cofounder, Cambodia Sings!
Visit the Youtube video to learn more: Cambodia Sings Hidden Voice Project