One wedding and a funeral band

{ January 13, 2010 @ 11:56 am }

Excursion this morning to see some traditional music groups supported by Cambodian Living Arts, which everyone calls "clah". Four people per tuk-tuk, eight bucks in total!

First, the funeral boys: Kan Taom Ming Music, housed in a monastic village with a field of multicoloured shrines and a beautiful crematorium by the ricefields. The musicians are sitting in a dark pavillion under multicoloured triangular flags that flutter in the wind.

Oboe, gongs, drums and gamelan. The music’s really stirring and sombre, and the Youtube I’ll be uploading does not do it justice. It’s about the space as well, you know? That solemn space.

But of course, it’s a dying art form: besides the decimations of the masters, hardly anyone wants to pay for expensive funerals anymore. If they want music at the wake, they just get pre-recorded stuff.

Sambor from CLA explains how their music is linked to legend: when the Buddha passed away to Nirvana, the whole world is said to have gone into mourning: the sun disappeared, the animals wept in the forest, even the oceans made great waves to send him off. Thus the kettle drums are the raindrops beating, and the gongs are the thunder, or something of the sort.

KS pleads the master, Lin Soey, to sing for us, never mind that he’s got throat problems. (Last time round he missed the singing because Lin was in Tokyo, getting ethnomusicologically appreciated.) It’s strange: I think I enjoy the music better without a voice.

Later on we’re ferried to a neighbouring vilage (Khnar village, Chrear commune, Sambor tells me later), for a music group that’s just called Classical Wedding Music Group, according to the same source.

The village is frankly a bit of a dump: plastic bottle rubbish and dust everywhere. But the people look happy: the kids (some dressed in nothing at all) come out and say hello to us by waving bye-bye. (No, I don’t understand why either.) Bunrith tries to teach them the correct English, but soon gives up and just plays marbles with them.

But the music, again, is good (and again it doesn’t show up properly on video). The genders are mixed in this troupe (they’re traditionally all-male). In fact, the lead singer for the first song is a 12 year-old girl called Vay Savom, who started training a year ago, picked out just because she had a big voice.

They seem to be supporting themselves well enough though. The master looks healthy and affable, and there’s photos of their travels on the wall, of little girls learning these sad dew instruments so ancient that they’re portrayed on the bas-reliefs of the Bayon. (Not all of us are in the little pavillion, because it’s on stilts and we’re scared it’ll break. Good thing that the Amrita kids stayed at the hotel – they’ve heard all this classical stuff before, and would rather do their homework or swim.)

Tuk-tuk back. Workshops at one.

Ng Yi-Sheng