A Change of Guard

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Sunday 16 December 2007

A Biography of Sin Sisamouth

Sinn Sisamouth (ស៊ិន ស៊ីសាមុត)(1935–c.1975) was a famous and highly prolific Cambodian singer-songwriter in the 1950s to the 1970s.
Widely considered the "King of Khmer music", Samouth, along with Ros Sereysothea, Pan Ron, and other artists, was part of a thriving pop music scene in Phnom Penh that blended elements of Khmer traditional music with the sounds of rhythm and blues and rock and roll to make a Westernized sound akin to psychedelic or garage rock. Samouth is believed to have been killed under the Khmer Rouge regime in November 1975.
1 Biography
1.1 Early life
1.2 Music career
1.2.1 Early hits and musical talent
1.2.2 1960s Cambodian music scene
1.2.3 Samouth in the 1970s
1.3 Personal life
1.3.1 Marriage and family
1.3.2 Friends and interests
1.4 The Killing Fields
2 Legacy
3 Partial discography
3.1 Solo performances
3.19 Duets with Ros Sereysothea
3.20 Duets with Pan Ron
4 References
5 Sources
6 External links


Early life
Sinn Sisamouth (alternative spellings: Sin Sisamouth, Sinn Sisamout/h, Sisamut/h or "Si" with spacing, e.g. Si Samouth) was born in 1935 in Stung Treng Province, the son of Sinn Leang and mother Seb Bunlei who was of Lao-Chinese descent.
He was the youngest of four siblings, with one brother and two sisters. His father was a prison warden in Battambang Province and was then a soldier during the Colonial Cambodia period. His father died of disease and his mother remarried, and the union resulted in two more children.
Samouth attended Central Province of Stung Treng Elementary School when he was five. At the age of six or seven, he started to show interest in the guitar, and he would be asked to perform at school functions. He was interested in Buddhist scripture, and he learned Pali from the Buddhist monks. He enjoyed reading books, playing soccer and flying kites.
In about 1951 he finished elementary school, and went to study medicine in Phnom Penh, where he lived with an uncle. Despite the rigorous demands of medical school, Sisamouth still managed to find time to learn how to sing and compose songs. Just as he had in elementary school, he became well known in his school for his musical skills and lyrical talent, and was asked to sing at school ceremonies.
By the time Cambodia was granted independence from France in 1953, Samouth's fine singing voice landed him a spot on national radio as a regular singer. He also continued his studies, working at Preah Ketomealea Hospital.

Music career

Early hits and musical talent
Samouth possessed a clear crooning voice which, combined with his own compositions about the pleasures and pains of romance, made him an idol. He sang many ballads, as well uptempo rock numbers that featured prominent, distortion-laden guitar, pumping organ and loud, driving drums. Other arrangements were more Latin jazz-sounding, featuring woodwinds, brass, and auxiliary percussion.
Samouth composed melodies on a mandolin. His songs were usually of a sentimental nature, reflecting on the longings, pains, and pleasures of romance. His lyrical talent was a result of hard work as well as natural ability. He was known to have used up to three different dictionaries in searching for just the right word in the Khmer, Sanskrit, or Pali languages.
In the early 1950s he became a protege of Queen Kossomak Nearyrath. He was selected to join the Vong Phleng Preah Reach Troap (classical ensemble of the Royal Treasury) where together with Sos Matt, he performed at royal receptions and state functions. A number of songs he wrote subsequently bore the unmistakable melancholic melodies of traditional Khmer music he performed in those formative years.
Sometime in the mid-1950s a romantic ballad "Violon Sneha", composed by violinist Hass Salan (or Hass Salorn), catapulted Samouth into stardom. Samouth's other hits of the same period include "Srey Sros Khmeng","Anussavry Phnom Kravanh", "(Chett Srey doch) Chong Srol", "Thngay Dob Pee Thnou", "Kakey (Srey Chett Cheuk)", "KangRey (kuor nass assor dal roub neang Kang Rey)", "Thngay Muoy Kakkda", "Somros Chhne Keb", "Stung Pursat", and "Prek Eng Oss Sangkhim". Three songs from this period were to be re-released much later in the early 1970's. These are "Oudom Duong Chett" available from a popular video site, "Prek Eng Oss Sangkhim" and "Chau Dork" (a clever musical duet with Ros Serey Sothea, showcasing Salan on violin and Samouth on mandolin). Interested readers should look for "Chong Srol" and "Somros Chhne Keb" on the internet. Dedicated fans should consider making more of these songs available on the web to future generations of Khmer listeners. They are priceless examples of Samouth's earliest vocal style and the poetry that pervades his art.

1960s Cambodian music scene
Beginning in around 1963, Samouth started recording on the Vat Phnom label. His "Champa Batdambang" won immediate acclaim across the country. In a rare 1971 appearance on Khmer Republic television, Samouth's interviewer recalled that "Champa Batdambang" was the first opening song at the inauguration of the station in 1965. What captured Samouth's audience in this period was the use of a four-piece, rock and roll band instrumentation with guitars and percussion, a departure from an orchestral backing band of wind instruments, piano, violin and the odd accordion. He also experimented with Latin music - an infatuation that may have been started by Prince Norodom Sihanouk in compositions such as "Reatry Del Ban Chuop Pheak" and "Phnom Penh". If anything Samouth's ability to re-invent himself musically may well be his greatest attribute and could explain his appeal through different generations of Khmer listeners.
By the mid-sixties, Samouth's fame had reached its zenith and had him in great demand. One measure of his appeal is examplified in "Prey Prasith", Prince Norodom Sihanouk's second full length feature film, available on the Prince's website. Playing the piano and apparently shown singing the title song he composed, Prince Sihanouk was actually dubbed over by none other than Samouth.
Samouth's popularity nevertheless did not eclipse the work of other recording artists, notably those who sang at the National Radio such as Im Song Seum and Huoy Meas. Meas Hok Seng, a voice artist at the Phnom Penh University of Arts (popularly known as "Sala Rachna") also achieved celebrity status in 1966 with "Lolok Nhi Chmaul". Hits by these artists often came from the pen of lyricist Ma Lao Pi, a talented poet and broadcaster now living in California, whose masterpieces include "Day Samot Trapaing Roung" (originally performed by Keo Sokha, and in more recent times, by Touch Sonich) and "Lolok Nhi Chmaul". Im Song Seurm's career seems centred on vocal performance rather than musical composition. "Koh Tral" was recorded sometime in 1963, reminding Khmer listeners of the bitter loss of this island to South Vietnam. With Huoy Meas, Seurm often accompanied Prince Sihanouk in his regular provincial visits, performing popular ramvong songs to the masses that have come to greet Cambodia's head of state. On the other hand, despite occasional hits such as "Akassyean", Sos Matt appeared to have been unfairly sidelined in the commercialisation of music that took place with the arrival of recording productions such as Vat Phnom and later on, Chan Chaya. Sos Matt nevertheless retained a following among older fans who may have been less open to Samouth's later musical innovations. Also the popularity of the 45 rpm vinyl records forced commercially minded songwriters to work their compositions into 2.50 minute straigth jackets. By then, arguably, Samouth's penchant for putting poetry to music had become a thing of the past.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Samouth sang the soundtrack songs to a number of popular Cambodian films, such as Orn Euy Srey Orn, Tep Sodachan, and Thavory meas bong. In "Peou Chhouk Sar", a 1967 success directed by Tea Lim Kaing, Samouth captured the poignant breakup of lead actors Dy Saveth and Chea Yuthan with his "Neavea Chivit". In a beautiful series of shots choreographed to Samouth's soaring melody, Tea Lim Kaing showed Chea Yuthan leaving on a pirogue (touk) as his wife (played by Dy Saveth) followed on along the banks of the river.
Over his long career, Samuth recorded many duets with female singing partners including, in the early 1960s, Mao Sareth, Keo Settha, Chhunn Vanna, Huoy Meas, Ros Sereysothea, and Pan Ron. Mao Sareth could arguably be called the first female Khmer singer to have achieved nationwide acclaim, in the years following Cambodia's emerging political independence. Little is known of her early years. Folk lores have it that she was a humble street seller of lottery tickets before her talents were discovered. A valuable example of her art is "Sombot Krom Khneuy", an early 1960's song with a haunting melody which can be found on the internet. In 1969 her "Oay Own Oss Chett" reminded the nation now charmed by younger upstarts, of her still considerable talents. Pan Ron began recording with Samouth in 1966. Ros Sereysothea started her career around 1967 with the hit "Stung Khieu". Her high, crisp voice nicely balanced the deeper-toned voice of Sisamouth.

Samouth in the 1970s
As his popularity increased, Samouth could no longer keep up the pace of writing his own material, so he started performing works by other songwriters. He initially picked songs written by Pov Sipho, Svay Som Eur, and Ma Laopi, but he would also occasionally sing songs composed by Mae Bunn, a close friend of his, and Has Salorn. Between 1970 and 1975, he almost exclusively sang songs written by Voy Ho, a long standing colleague. Regardless of who had written the songs, Samouth always managed to make them popular. Samouth also adapted a number of Thai songs into his repertoire, including "Chnam Mun" and "Snaeh Chlong Vaeha".
From 1972 to 1973 music publisher Kruoch Polin issued A Collection of Sentimental Songs, which contained 500 of Sinn Sisamouth's songs. It is estimated that he wrote thousands of songs, possibly at least one for each day he was famous, his son Sinn Chaya has said.
Along with his original works, Samouth also introduced many Western pop tunes to Cambodia, simply writing new verses in Khmer language. Examples include "The House of the Rising Sun" as "I'm Still Waiting for You" (a particularly good showcase of his sustained phrasing and baritone voice), "Black Magic Woman" (influenced by the Santana version) under the title "I Love Petite Women", and "Quando My Love".

Personal life

Marriage and family
After finishing medical school, he wedded his cousin, Keo Thorng Gnut, in an arranged marriage. They had four children. After the Khmer Rouge, only one daughter and one son survived. His family life deteriorated as a consequence of the pressures of his career and the temptations that his voice attracted. With regard to his relationship with his wife, one of his sons, Sinn Chaya, commented that no woman could pay that price. At the age of thirty, his wife left him to become a Buddhist nun. Interested Khmer readers can view a recent interview she gave, posted on a popular video site. Now in her seventies, with most of her family devastated by the wars, the video also contains her appeal for financial support from Khmer fans of the late singer living overseas.

Friends and interests
Sinn Sisamouth had a reputation for being very serious about his work. In business affairs, according to publisher Kruoch Polin, he would always deliver what he promised. At home, he was a quiet man, and would sometimes not speak more than ten words in an entire day. When he was not performing, Samouth would lock himself in his room and dedicate his time to writing more songs. His failure to socialize contributed to a reputation for being elitist.
His friends at the beginning of his career were songwriters such as Mao Saret, Seang Dee, and Sous Mat. His very close friends were Mae Bunn and Siv Sunn, who was more or less Samouth's personal secretary.
Samouth was an avid fan of cock-fighting, and he raised fighting birds. In his spare time, he would bet with friends. He exercised regularly by lifting weights every morning. His other interests included reading books at the library and watching French films at the Luch or Prom Bayon cinemas. At night, after he finished performing, Samouth would meet with friends to eat rice porridge. He had contracts with three different restaurants in Phnom Penh in which he was paid 1,500 riels to sing two or three songs. A bowl of noodles cost 5 riel at the time. He usually sang at Kbal Thmor Bar, Neak Bagn Teak Bar, and a bar located next to the Interior Ministry.
He was not a picky eater. He generally preferred to eat Lao food. When he ate Khmer food, he liked to eat pror-huk and phork tpul trey. He never drink wine or soft drinks, ate chili peppers, or smoked cigarettes, all of which would harm his voice.
He always freely gave up-and-coming singers advice and reminded them to take care of their voices. His affable, caring attitude thus won him favor among his contemporaries.

The Killing Fields
In the aftermath of the coup d'état by the Lon Nol government on March 18, 1970, which saw the overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Samouth started to sing propaganda songs in support of the fledgling Khmer Republic. In that rare live 1971 television show mentionned earlier, Samouth appeared in a military fatigue, wearing an officer's cap to hide his slightly balding forehead, and performed a number of pro republican songs. One such songs that became an enduring classic was "Mae Owy Ao Yoann", telling the story of a mother giving a mantra-covered magic vest to her soldier son on his way to battle. Referring to Viet Cong troop movements inside Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War, a verse in the same song claimed that the deposed monarch had sold out Cambodia to the Vietnamese communists. Such criticism of the royal family, while understandable at a time of huge political and social changes, was nevertheless unprecedented in Samouth's career, especially as he had been a protege of Queen Kossomak Nearyrath, mother of Prince Sihanouk. By this time however, and save a few memorable songs, many have questioned the quality of Samouth's final years' output. It was claimed his art was becoming formulaic and repetitive. How much he understood the extent of the hellish tragedy that was consuming Khmer society may never be known, but it was clear that by the mid 70's he appeared to have distanced himself entirely from politics and from anything that could be misconstrued as taking sides. The Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 saw Samouth forced to leave the city, along with millions of other residents.
By this time he had remarried, to a dancer in the royal ballet, who was pregnant with the couple's second child.
The circumstances of his death in the Killing Fields are unknown, but he had connections with the old government, was highly educated, and was an artist — all trappings of a society that Pol Pot sought to eradicate. One apocryphal story is that before he was to be executed, Samouth asked he be allowed to sing a song for the cadre, but the cold-hearted communist soldiers were unmoved and after he finished singing, killed him anyway. One recent interview of Samouth's former wife is available on a popular internet video site. Besides an appeal for financial support for the humble remnants of Samouth's impoverished family, Samouth's widow relate souvenirs of her famed husband.

Because his influence on Cambodian music was so great, he is still a household name in Cambodia. His surviving son, Sinn Chaya, became a singer for the Cambodian Radio, though he himself has admitted he cannot be compared to his father.
Although all the master tapes of his studio recordings are thought to have been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, his work lives on in recordings created from cassettes and LPs that have subsequently been transferred to CD, and his songs are often heard on Cambodian radio stations.
Now and then some of Samouth's 1950s and early 1960s hits are brought back to life. One such hit, "Srey Sros Khmeng", re-emerged from oblivion with Suong Chantha's 2002 faithful rendition. In recent years his 1950s hit song "Violon Sneha" has been re-issued by a large number of performers, including Song Seng Horn, of Sayonara productions Rhode Island, Mol Kamach (a singer and guitarist of the 1960s who escaped from the Khmer Rouge rule and is now living in France), Nay Sieng (a Khmer based in France), Noy Vanneth and Him Sivonn (a female vocalist from Phnom Penh). Nevertheless, many of Samouth's taped recordings from the 50's and early 60's apparently did not survive and are feared to be lost forever.
Samouth, his frequent duet partner Ros Sereysothea, and other Cambodian singers of the era, including Meas Samoun, Chan Chaya, Choun Malai, and Pan Ron, are featured on the soundtrack to Matt Dillon's film City of Ghosts. Tracks by Samouth are "Mou Pei Na" and "Ne Te Fache Pas".
Courtesy of Wikipedia.


Anonymous said...

nice blog! keep up the good work!

miss_tda said...

nice blog, keep up da good work.

Anonymous said...

chnam mun is sang by somone else not sin sisamouth. i have the song and i think, is the other way around. it's khmer song but the thai copy it from khmer.
if you have this song that is sang by sin sisamouth. put in youtube so i can listen to it.

Unknown said...

Love him the most and no one can compare with his golden voice

Unknown said...

Live him the most and ni one can compare with his golden voice

Unknown said...

love him the most