At a recent showing of the Cambodian rock documentary “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten” in Silver Spring, Maryland, Cambodian audience members said they found the film touching, reminding them of Cambodia before the war and the Khmer Rouge. Some said the film made them feel proud to be Cambodian.
The film examines a rare moment in Cambodian history, when the country was newly independent and where a rock and roll scene grew, thanks to influences from radio coming from US armed forces in Vietnam.
Menh Sothyvan, a singer and songwriter who survived the Khmer Rouge, told VOA Khmer these rock songs have staying power. They were original and influential. “So we have kept conserved what is ours from that time to now.”
For viewer Ti Doung, who lives in nearby Virginia, the documentary brought about pride, as well. “I remember a time when I was a kid in Cambodia, and I was proud to say I was from Cambodia,” he said.
Sin Sethakol, grandson of renowned singer Sin Sisamut, joined the screening in April. “It’s my own pride, and for my whole nation as well, because it makes other people know that Cambodia has music, and we came here to sing the songs for foreigners,” he said. “Yes, I am happy and it’s my pride.”
John Pirozzi, the documentary’s producer, told VOA Khmer that he had wanted to make a film that would save this music from being lost. “This movie reflects Cambodian music and also Cambodian history,” he said.
But it also contains the memories of musicians, many of whom did not survive the Khmer Rouge. That includes singer Ros Soreysothea. “One thing which stays in my mind is Ms. Ros Soreysothea’s voice, which is very unique,” Pirozzi said. “It stays in my mind forever.”
Menh Sothyvan said music can serve society as well, as in songs like “The Owner of the Louk Sre Joul Bar,” which cautions people against spending so much money in nightclubs. It was released when Cambodia started to see bars and nightclubs, he said.
In Cambodia today, however, singers and comedians are often exploited for political gain. Some are even made high-ranking government officials.
Sadira Benge who is a half American and half Cambodian, said the film was a reminder that singers should be independent and allowed to write and sing any song they want. It also reminded her how much she loves the Cambodian music of old, and how hard it is to choose a favorite. “Everyone is interesting in different ways, you know,” she said. “When they describe, it attracts me like this and like that. So I cannot decide whom I love the most.”