PLÔW-TCHA  (the booklet)
Village melodies

Since Cambodia's independence in 1953, its history has been a long, practically uninterrupted tale of violence and upheaval for which the rural world has paid a heavy price. Between 1970 and 1973, American B52s dropped over a hundred thousand tons of bombs on the Cambodian countryside which was at the time largely supportive of the communist opposition. But the worst moments of this bloody history were without doubt the years 1975 - 1978, during which period Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge fighters undertook a veritable "self-genocide" which counted, according to estimates, two to three million victims.
During the Vietnamese occupation (1978 - 1989), and then under the supervision of the UN and during the period of pacification, the village of Rohal was nevertheless protected from Khmer guerillas and landmines because of its position completely enclosed within the site of Angkor. In memory of these difficult times and to bear witness to the permanence of the Khmer culture, the musicians of the village of Rohal have chosen to call this recording Plôw tcha (or Phleuv chas), "the old path".

The village of Rohal
The small village of Rohal consists of a group of hamlets, each of which shelters one family and its relations. In this isolated place, the dwellings are still traditional: wooden houses constructed on pilings, roofs of sugar palm fronds and dried grasses. The main activity of the village is the cultivation of rice. Up until recently, forestry development provided access to monetary exchange. In the village of Siem Reap, twenty kilometers from Rohal, the villagers sold wood, latex and various resins necessary for the manufacture of incense. In turn, they bought salt, prahok - a condiment based on fish - and dried fish.
Since 1995, the increased protection of the site and the development of tourism have partially transformed the local economy. Forestry development and the expansion of cultivable land are today strictly limited in the temple area. However, craftwork and the increasing demand for various services induced by the development of the tourist industry, create important sources of income which indirectly benefit the villagers of the region. The population's living standard - while it has improved slightly - nevertheless remains precarious, and community structures are practically inexistent. Apart from the recent opening of a primary school near the site, the paths remain unpassable in the rainy season, and there is no electricity network or distribution of drinking water.

Music and instruments
Rural Cambodian music figures during all religious ceremonies and feasts and is generally performed in the pagoda. Approximately fifteen feasts are held there each year: the feast of the dead (generally in October), the feasts to celebrate the beginning and end of the rainy season, the celebration of certain lunar months, the religious commitments of the various stages of life, etc. Music is also essential for marriage ceremonies which last two days. The first day, the musicians perform between the ceremonies. On the second day, they perform in the morning, before the arrival of the guests, around ten o'clock, and at the wedding feast. But music is also performed during annual feasts (feast of the waters, feast for the New Year, in April) and, more rarely, during occasional feasts organized by individuals. Finally, representations for tourists, in constantly increasing demand, are progressively compensating the decrease in collective demand. In the countryside, musicians are sometimes farmers, sometimes craftsmen or traders; in the towns, there are numerous groups of professional musicians.

A village ensemble generally comprises one or more two- to four-stringed hurdy-gurdies or "Chinese violins" (tro ) with bow, a drum (sko) and a zither (kum or khem
), to which can be added, as in these recordings, one or other improvised percussion instrument such as an empty beer bottle struck wth a metal spoon. Instrumental technique is acquired by emulating the elders and anyone can become a musician, though in practise, family traditions predominate the transmission of knowledge. In towns and cities, where international pop music is gradually gaining ground, traditional pieces are often modified to fit the demands of fashion and a young audience. The themes are updated, rhythms modified and certain traditional instruments are sometimes even replaced by an electric guitar, a drum set... But is musical tradition preserved in the countryside solely "thanks to" the enormous development deficit from which the rural world suffers?

Mi Sot, the singer of the group, was just fourteen years old when these recordings were made. Three generations of musicians currently walk the old path which follows the enclosure of a ruined temple, the Ta Prohm, to the village. As far back as can be remembered, it has been thus in Cambodia.

CD tracks
  1. Sat Mahory (from the name of a sacred bird)
    The words of this song, well known to all Cambodians, evoke the abundance of nature. Performed during most feasts, with the exception of marriages, this song also accompanies certain classic Khmer dances.

  2. Tepthida (from the name of a celestial nymph)
    Mainly performed at the pagoda, this traditional piece, of religious inspiration, also accompanies certain classic dances during which the dancers scatter flower petals before them, in tribute to Tepthida.

  3. Hom rong (invitation to join the marriage celebrations)
    This song, which is performed only on the first day of the marriage ceremony, describes the arrival of the guests in their traditional costumes and asks for indulgence towards the musicians.

  4. Saray Nim Noon - "Nim Noon, little seaweed"
    "Ripe fruits hang from the trees, I dream of plucking them."
    The text describes the path of love, from the first meeting and the budding of desire, up to the marriage proposal. Piece performed on the first day of the wedding.

  5. Chao pream (from the name of a Brahmin)
    Performed the morning of the second day of the marriage ceremony, this melody punctuates the offering of trays of fruit made by the groom and his suite to the bride and her family.

  6. Tro peang peay - "The pond in the forest"
    This love song evokes a mythical couple mutually washing and rinsing themselves in the waters of a pond. This piece, for the second day of the marriage is played during the ceremony where the bride washes her husband's feet.

  7. Pko loen ko krek - "The thunder in the tempest"
    Outside, the tempest rages. The man must leave. His wife promises to pray for his safe return. This war allegory, highly popular, is performed whenever a feast takes place.

  8. Kher pak tom - "Tell the Khmer people to preserve their country"
    The words of this song exhort the Cambodians towards peace and unity. The message is restricted to a few clichés such as well-being, happiness, the mother country calling to its children... This song is not widely known. It belongs to the village tradition of Rohal where it is mainly performed at New Year.

  9. Oh! Ptei srok khmer - "Oh! Khmer country"
    This very popular song notably accompanies dance shows. It exalts work, country and harmony.
    "It is night. The moon shines. Even at night, we work together for pleasure. Our country is magnificent!"

  10. Tik ho kat kasach - "The water flows in the sand"
    Little known melody, specific to the village of Rohal and the neighbouring area.

  11. Neang bok srov (allusion to a woman who washes the rice and feeds her pigs)
    This traditional song is widely known in rural areas. It praises the old values, notably thrifty behaviour.
    "When you make rice, don't throw out the bran. The ancestors beat it with the pestle, then gave it to the pigs. And the sale of the pig helped the family. Why do we waste when the ancestors squandered nothing?"

  12. Tvay krou (prayer to the god of teachers)
    This piece, of village inspiration, is mainly performed during religious feasts. It is very popular throughout Cambodia and expresses the respect of rural communities for the holders of particular powers - religious figures and warriors.

  13. Ban det kbon - "The floating raft"
    Popular melody frequently performed, mainly during feasts.