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Cambodian Blues Man Guest on 'Hello VOA'

Kong Nay, the nearest thing Cambodia has to a Blues man, stopped by "Hello VOA" Monday, answering questions about his art and improvising several Chapei Dong Veng songs.

Kong Nay, a blind singer who plays the long-necked, two-string guitar while singing heartwarming love songs or comedic improves, is in Washington as part of the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival.

The festival is an international exhibition of "living cultural heritage" that takes place each year in July on the National Mall in Washington.

This year's festival saw a special dedication to the cultures of the Mekong River.

"The Mekong region has been a cradle and crossroads of cultures for many centuries and more recently has become closely connected to the United States through the more than two million Americans who trace their ancestry to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and the Chinese province of Yunnan," Folklife festival organizers said.

"Visitors will experience the region's diversity firsthand through the presentations of artists, performers, craftspeople, cooks, ritual specialists and presenters," organizers said.

"The Mekong has many different meanings to the peoples of the region as well as to Americans who may know little of its complexity," organizers said.

The Mekong program of the festival included Vietnamese opera, Thai shadow puppetry, Cambodian classical dance, and Chinese gourd flute music. Lao textiles, Naxi calligraphy and mural paintings were also on display.

The festival also showcases the musical stylings of Kong Nay.

Kong Nay's Chapei Dong Veng music, which includes ballads, stories and comedic improvisation, is dying as a tradition thanks to the invasion of karaoke into rural Cambodia.

One "Hello VOA" listener noted that many of the practitioners of the art were blind like Kong Nay, and wondered aloud if the art made a person so.

Kong Nay said he'd been blind before he started to play.