Cambodia is preparing for an expansive arts festival in August, one that will bring artists of all ages from at home and abroad to demonstrate some of Cambodia’s nearly lost traditions.
The Cambodian Youth Arts Festival will be held in Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Conference Hall from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6, and organizers expect at least 20 different organizations to take part, representing as many as 10,000 young and professional artists.
Song Seng, project coordinator of Cambodian Living Arts, told “Hello VOA” Monday the festival will provide an opportunity for artists “to share and learn a variety of traditional arts forms developed from elder traditions.”
It will also “help generate national renewal through arts and culture, and to provide opportunities for all participating groups to demonstrate mastery of what they have learned through workshops, demonstrations, and performances,” Song Seng said.
Cambodian Living Arts established a teaching program in 1999, encouraging surviving master musicians and performance artists to resume work with young apprentices.
The festival will allow some of these apprentices to showcase work they have practiced for years.
Kong Boran, a student of “chapei dang weng,” a musical oral tradition, said he learned from his father, Kong Nay, for seven years at the organization. The tradition includes melodies that are passed down from one generation to the next, though its lyrics are often newly composed or even improvised on the spot.
Lun Sophanith, student of the “khsae diew” instrument, learned from his grandfather, Sok Duch, for four years. Images of the soothing instrument, made partly from a gourd, can be found on the walls of Cambodian temples dating back to the 10th Century. It was popular with modern kings and leaders, who requested solo performances of the instrument to help them relax.
Sok Duch may be the last living master of the rare instrument, but he now teaches young apprentices. Two of them may become masters.
Much of Cambodia’s traditional culture was nearly silenced by the Khmer Rouge, which killed up to 90 percent of the country’s performers. The traditional cultures were passed down orally from teachers to students, so many skills were not recorded in writing.
“Each surviving performer is a living cultural treasure with a unique body of skills and knowledge to pass on,” Song Seng said. “A living library of Cambodia’s cultural legacy.”