Food for Thought
What types of music, fashion, and entertainment from other countries are now popular in the United States? Do you think the internet has changed the way culture is exchanged across the world?
In the 1840s, concerned by adjacent countries fighting to control Cambodia, King Norodom signed a treaty to make the kingdom a protectorate of France. This meant that the French would gain significant ruling power in Cambodia in exchange for their protection and support. The country later became a part of French Indochina, a group of France’s colonial territories in Southeast Asia. France’s colonization in Asia sought to “civilize” its subjects by replacing their inherited cultures with that of the French. Calls for independence gained traction during World War II as France’s occupation gave the colonies a taste of self-governance. King Norodom Sihanouk (different Norodom!) had been negotiating self-rule with France throughout his reign, but eventually presented an ultimatum in 1952. Cambodia’s official independence was recognized on November 9th, 1953.
Cambodian History & Culture
Intro to Cambodian Geography
Sihanouk Boulevard, 1960s.
Photo: Don't Think I've Forgotten
Throughout Cambodian history, music has been an important and special part of the culture. After achieving independence, Cambodia entered a period of prosperity under Norodom Sihanouk, who was appointed Prime Minister shortly after abdicating the throne. Coming from a family that cherished the arts, he loved music and encouraged its growth. He traveled with musicians all over Cambodia, performing and meeting citizens. The population eagerly opened to modernization and Western culture. Capital city Phnom Penh, known as “the pearl of Southeast Asia,” attracted musicians from across the country to perform and record their songs. The Khmer National Radio played its broadcast over a speaker in the city, where anyone who didn’t own a radio could listen. Gradually, the availability of French and Afro-Cuban records in Cambodia influenced local music and style. Pioneering singer Sinn Sisamouth and Queen of Cambodian rock Ros Serey Sothea became the nation’s most influential performers and often recorded duets. Baksei Cham Krong, a guitar band formed in 1959, brought the styles of early boy bands to Khmer teenagers. This was a time of international influence, when musicians could learn about all different types of music and incorporate their elements into the unique Khmer style.
Record store in Cambodia. Photo: Don't Think I've Forgotten
Norodom Sihanouk and Choun Nath in The Enchanted Forest, a 1966 film directed by Sihanouk
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Baksei Cham Krong performing. Photo: Mol Kamach