In the 1960s singer Ros Serey Sothea was one of the biggest stars in Cambodia. In those days, the capital Phnom Penh was the hub of a buzzing music scene, full of musicians who, like Ros Serey Sothea, were combining traditional Cambodian sounds and themes with western rock n’ roll. There were surf bands, crooners, garage, punk, and psych acts — all with a distinctly Cambodian character. As the scene grew through the 60s and into the 70s numerous bands, clubs, and record labels sprung up to meet the demand for new music. Music was such a big part of Cambodian life that even the country’s leader, Norodom Sihanouk, was an accomplished singer and performer.
In the new documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, director John Pirozzi tells the story of the Golden Age of popular music in Cambodia. The film begins with the country’s independence from France in 1953 and takes us through 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and began a systematic human and cultural genocide. They evacuated the cities, sent millions to agricultural labor camps, and banned all forms of modern culture. During this period 9 out of 10 artists, including Ros Serey Sothea, were executed or died of starvation and disease. In John’s documentary we hear from some of the musicians and fans that survived the genocide and are helping to keep Cambodia’s musical history alive.
When I spoke with John he had just returned from a tour of screenings and musical performances with some of the Cambodian musicians featured in the film. We talked about Cambodian rock, the musicians in the film, and the role of the United States and the Vietnam war in Cambodian history.
The Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten soundtrack is available through Dust to Digital.
Joe Virgillito chats with Prof. Gerald Friedman about COVID-19 and the case for Medicare For All. J. McVay and Jacqueline Soller discuss 2011 movie, ‘Contagion.’ Plus a preview of Scoville Unit’s upcoming BTR Live Studio session. | listen