Khmer Rouge Survivors 'They Will Kill You If You Cry' LP
The powerful third instalment of the Hidden Musics series.
Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan (Zomba Prison Project, Tinariwen, Hanoi Masters) returns to Southeast Asia to record unheralded, traditional-based musicians from Cambodia, all of whom are survivors of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The result is heartbreaking, inspiring and sublime.
Khmer Rouge Survivors "They Will Kill You, If You Cry" is a welcome introduction to an embattled musical tradition and an emotionally stirring follow up to Brennan's previous recordings from Southeast Asia, the highly-accalimed Glitterbeat album: Hanoi Masters "War is a Wound, Peace is a Scar" (2015). Singer Thorn Seyma, had discovered by chance just days before our arrival that her father, Thom Mouy, had apparently been quite a famous singer in the Sixties before perishing himself in the killing fields. As in many post-genocidal countries, communal living is common with people assembling ad hoc, surrogate families. With a large group of such survivors, we visited a crowded shopping mall full of things that no one buys, just display after display of what people can't have. And there singer, Chea Sean (age 45)- who has spent her life nearby as a rice farmer- rode an escalator for the first time, which was a main attraction for having brought us there. With the majority of the population under age twenty-five, the populace has been shaken by a secondary, post-traumatic wave: that of the majority having little memory of the relatively recent tragic events that ravaged the country. That so many of the elite who were involved with engineering those massacres have remained unbrokenly in power ever since, and are now conducting mass evictions and selling off nearly half the landmass of the country to private foreign investors, is chilling. We had the good fortune of recording with sixty-year-old Han Nai, from the mountainous far north, near the border of Thailand. He is reportedly one of two people left in the world who play the Kann (a bamboo horn).
In a country where the pop-charts revealed that 19 out of 20 hit songs were in English, concerns about cultural extinction in this region are far from hyperbole. Fifty-year-old poet and guitarist, Thuch Savanj, bears the scars of war on his face, having been deformed by the same shrapnel that claimed his mother's life. Musical director, flautist, and percussion player, Arn Chorn Pond managed to survive, first by playing music to entertain the Khmer Rouge troops, and later by himself becoming a child soldier against the Vietnamese, in a kill or be killed scenario. His weight had dropped down to 30 pounds due to lack of rations, before he was rescued by an American adoptive father. "If you're a soldier, they will kill you if you cry. Now I cry and feel better. The turning point for me was learning to cry and listen to my own words, rather than just preaching peace and forgiveness to others." On the road to visit the legendary Kong Nai ("the Ray Charles of Cambodia") we passed aging bomb-craters the size of ponds that had filled with stagnant rain water. Parents commonly warn their children, "If you try to play like Kong Nai, you too will go blind," as a way to scare youngsters away from music, so that they will hopefully instead follow some other, more respectable career pursuit. But as amazing a musician as Kong Nai is, he was rivaled by another virtually unknown chapie dwng veng (long neck "guitar") master, Soun San. San was left with a crooked leg and walks with a crutch, but all struggle seems to vanish from his being when he enters trance-like blues states, where he literally tears the shirt from his own chest and beats the floor and walls to emphasize vocal phrases. Being that he lives in the capital's flight path, that is a jet airliner that is audible, almost clipping his building and dovetailing exactly at the end of one song. Another blind-singer, sixty year old, Keut Ran, keeps the Smot vocal style alive, one that bears an uncanny resemblance to the hollerin' style of America's backwoods in the Deep South. When a young hipster from the city talked of knowing elders that played, "Country music," it was intriguing. But upon further examination, it was discovered tthat what she meant was not cowboy hats and fiddles, but the murdered music of Cambodia's own roots tradition.
Vinyl is 180G gatefold plus download code.
Catalogue number: GBLP036