Music in Cambodia comes from a variety of different cultural traditions dating back to the ancient Khmer Empire. In more recent times, Cambodian music has seen a quick westernization of the popular music scene.
Traditional Cambodian Art music has been influenced by ancient and Hindu forms. The religious dancing, many of which depict stories and ancient myths, are common in Cambodian culture. Many of the 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 different kinds of drums. Cambodia in the 1950s saw a revival in classical dance thanks in part to Queen Sisowath Kossamak Nearyrath leading the movement.
In the late 1950’s Cambodia’s Head of State was Norodom Sihanouk. Being a musician himself, he helped to encourage the development and globalisation of popular music in Cambodia.At first, pop records from France and Latin America were imported into the country and became popular, inspiring a flourishing music scene based in Phnom Penh and led by artists such as Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, and Pan Ron.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the scene was further influenced by Western rock and roll, blues and soul music via U.S. armed forces radio that had been broadcast into nearby South Vietnam during the American occupation of the country. This resulted in a truly unique sound in which Western pop and rock were combined with traditional Khmer vocal techniques.Tragically, many of the most important and influential singers of this era died during the Khmer Rouge regime.
As a visitor to Cambodia you will see that music runs through the very soul of Cambodia. You will see karaoke joints on virtually every corner and most bars will let you put whatever music you want on so you will likely hear music playing out of speakers as you travel across the country.
Most Cambodian’s preference are love songs above other genres although more recently hip-hop and other forms of dance music are becoming more popular. Cambodian’s are rightly proud of the music and culture so you will here the distinct sound of Cambodian music in most places you visit whether it be on a bus, walking down the street or eating lunch.
As you will discover, Cambodian music and the pop stars who are involved in it are also quick to become television celebrities through Cambodia’s love of talent shows such as The Voice Cambodia and Cambodian Idol. Have a look below at eight of the current most popular and well-loved pop stars in Cambodia.
Nop Bayyareth started his career in 1998 at the age of 17 and is one of Cambodia’s most famous pop stars. Since he broke onto the pop music scene, he has released several albums, making his debut in 2001 with Prouy Nek Mjas Sne. He has also made a series of TV appearances, featuring as a judge on the first and second season of The Voice Cambodia in 2014 and 2016, as well as a judge on the first season of Cambodian Idol in 2015.
Pich Sophea, commonly known as SP, rose to fame in 2004 with her debut single, ‘Better Day’, featuring DJ-Sdey. To date, she has released seven albums, with her latest, Queen, released in 2016. Pich Sophea also starred alongside Nop as a coach in the first two seasons of The Voice Cambodia.
Kum Bunnadeth started working for EV Production in 1988 as a seven-year-old singer. He went on to release a series of albums, meeting his wife and fellow popstar Yuk Thit Ratha at the recording studios at a young age. They wed in May 2006. In 2007, he released duet, ‘My O My’, with popular Khmer singer Yorth That Rotha, which shot to fame.
Preap Sovath launched his singing career in 1996 at the age of 31. He quickly rose to become one of the country’s most popular singers. He has also starred in a clutch of local films, including Have You Ever Loved Me in 2013. Preap was also a judge in Cambodian’s Got Talent seasons 1 and 2 in 2014 and 2017, Cambodian Idol 1 & 2 and The Voice Kids Cambodia season one, this year.
Chhet Sovanpanha’s love of singing started at a young age, with her performing in a string of shows for children. This national treasure has released a series of chart-topping hits, with her debut single ‘Mouse Loves Rise’ shooting to the top spot. She has also toured Malaysia, Australia, France and Switzerland.
Singer-songwriter Suon Socheata, known commonly as Nikki Nikki, has scored a series of hits, starting with ‘Home for Dinner’ in 2014. Her modern style combined with her soulful lyrics and sounds made her an instant hit with the masses. In February, she took to the stage with UK singer Joss Stone at the second ChubMet Music and Arts Festival in Siem Reap.
American-Cambodian Laura Mam found fame on YouTube after posting a series of love songs, sparked by a break-up in 2008. After graduating from college in the US, she headed to Cambodia where her catchy sounds made her an instant hit with the country’s youth. The singing sensation has also gone on to set up her own record label to spawn a new generation of young, original singers.
Having released their debut album 2×4 earlier this year, these four musicians are introducing new sounds to the country, creating original music that explores a range of subjects. Each song’s lyrics tell a special tale from the members’ lives that they hope their audience can relate to.