The ‘Golden-Age’ Bittersweet Nostalgia

By Thim Rachna

Source: Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten/2015

As someone who is obsessed with reading fiction, I have always enjoyed reading young-adults novels rather than non-fiction works or watching documentaries. However, a certain documentary captivated me ever since ever since I saw the teaser for the first time.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, an informative documentary, co-directed by an American filmmaker John Pirozzi and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, focusses solely on the Cambodian music scene during the ‘golden-age’, mainly in 60s and 70s before the Khmer Rouge period.

The highlighted features of the film is the selection of Cambodia’s most influential musical figures, ranging from the King of Khmer Music, Sin Sisamuth, the golden-voice Ros Sereysothea, the funky Yul Aularong, and Cambodia’s first psychedelic rock and guitar boy-bands, Drakkar and Baksei Cham Krong, and many nameless singers. They were once the core of national vibrant music and art scene of a young Cambodia.

According to an article from the Phnom Penh Post, around seventy interviews were conducted across the country, and in the United States, France, and Singapore. The interviews were held mostly with the remaining artists and the deceased artists. What made the film even more worth watching was the footage of Phnom Penh during the 1960s and the city dissertation during the Khmer Rouge regime. There were also shots of Cambodian life in the street during the 60s and 70s, with cyclos gathering around the National Radio Station to listen to the broadcasted songs of the day.

The documentary also unfolds the invisible history of Cambodian Rock and Rolls legacy, which was on the rise during the 1960s before it was completely silenced and buried by the Khmer Rouge. The genocidal regime of Pol Pot (1975–1979) claimed millions of Khmer lives, including those of artists who were accused of exuding aristocratic influence.

Growing up as one of the late 90s kids, I have also been influenced by the flow of foreign culture in Cambodia. I remember being impressed by western pop, especially by their acoustic and rock music, in which I find absent in the 2000s Cambodia’s musical scene. On top of that, the bombardment of plagiarised and translated songs from other languages in the early 2000s made modern Cambodian music less than appealing to me back then.

However, watching this documentary was such a shock for me. Through this documentary, I was able to discover another side of Cambodian music in which I thought did not exist at all. It even made me feel sheepish for not being well-informed of my own culture, and was impressed by other music for having what we always had all along.

Despite being one of the younger generation who did not witness the brutal regime, the documentary me nostalgic and fills me up with bittersweet feelings. It reminisces on the rise of Cambodian music before it was cruelly destroyed by the heartless era of the Khmer Rouge. Nevertheless, the film gives us a hopeful image for Cambodian next generation’s music, and gently reminds us to not dwell on the past.

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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