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‘Elephants’ Composer Sought Culture Push

Cambodian-born and Russian-educated, Him Sophy is the composer behind “Where Elephants Weep,” a modern rock opera that has its roots in both Cambodia and the West and is coming soon to Phnom Penh.

The story is a modern version of the “Tum Teav” fable, where a man named Sam returns to post-holocaust Cambodia and becomes a monk before falling into a tragic love affair.

Him Sophy, a professor of music at Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts and the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he wanted to incorporate rock-and-roll both conceptually and artistically. He typically has not written for rock or traditional Cambodian music, but the show, which debuts in Phnom Penh later this month, incorporates both.

“We played together with the rock band, sometimes separately,” he said Monday, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “Sometimes the solo is only rock, sometimes only Cambodian traditional, and then they come together and have another sound that you never heard before.”

The hope was to blend the styles and push contemporary Cambodian culture forward, Him Sophy said.

“Where Elephants Weep” showed in the US last year.

“It was a journey of both tragedy and hope, and one that involved cross-cultural collaboration among many people behind the scenes,” Samkhan Khoeun, co-chairman for Rock Opera Khmer, in Lowell, Mass., who was also a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

The rock opera, which was started six years ago, is the latest undertaking of Cambodian Living Arts, a project of World Education, he said.

Cambodian Living Arts was founded in 1998 by John Burt, the show’s executive producer, with Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian refugee who was adopted by Americans and lived for a time in Lowell.

The goal of the organization is to revive and support Cambodian arts, which were nearly eradicated under the regime of the Khmer Rouge.