Filed under: Cambodia
Born Ros Sothea in Battambang Province circa 1946, her family made a living by performing Khmer traditional music. Singing duets with her brother, Serey, the Serey-Sothea pair became quite well known and went to the capital Phnom Penh, where they found work performing in clubs. Ros eventually eclipsed her brother and became a solo artist, changing her name to Ros Sereysothea.
During the 60’s and early 70’s, as the war in Vietnam threatened its borders, a new music scene emerged in Cambodia that took Western rock and roll and added the unique melodies and hypnotic rhythms of their traditional music.
While these two songs are more on the tradional side, Sothea’s high, clear voice, coupled with the rock backing bands featuring prominent, distortion-laden lead guitars, pumping organ and loud, driving drums, made for an intense, sometimes haunting sound that is best described today as psychedelic or garage rock.
She was honored by King Norodom Sihanouk with the royal title, “Preah Rheich Teany Somlang Meas”, the “Golden Voice of the Royal Capital.”
On April 17, 1975, after taking over the country, the Khmer Rouge began one of the most brutal genocides in history, killing 2 million people – 1/4 of the Cambodian population. Intellectuals, artists and musicians were murdered simply for their status.
Forced out of Phnom Penh with all the other residents, Sothea lived at a worksite in Kampong Speu. When her identity was learned by Khmer Rouge leaders, she was made to write and perform songs celebrating the regime. When she wasn’t singing, she was required to work at digging irrigation ditches like everyone else in the camp. And, she was forced by the insistance of Pol Pot to marry one of his assistants in 1977.
She disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the brutal regime of the Killing Fields. Most believe that she died from being overworked in a Khmer Rouge agricultural camp, although it has also been reported that she either died of malnutrition in a hospital in Phnom Pehnh during the last weeks of the Khmer Rouge regime or that she had a fight with her husband and was sent away, never to be seen again.
There is an extensive biography, with tons of pictures and MP3’s, as well as links to an interview with Ros Sereysothea’s sister and other YouTube videos HERE. Also, there is a short film about her life called The Golden Voice. And the documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten has been in production for some time, but no release date has been announced.
Thanks to Linda Saphan for the translation.
Catalog number C7135 on Chanchhaya Records of Cambodia. No release date given.