Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pheuan Srey Peu: The master of "smot"

A year and a half ago I was lucky enough to attend a class of "smot", (an integral and extremely complicated form of singing unique to Khmer mourning) in the picturesque village of Tropaeng Po in Kampong Speu Village, about 40 minutes drive from Phnom Penh. The class takes place twice a week and as I sat watching the students sing I couldn't help but notice the focus and enthusiasm of one student. That day she had a sore throat but it was still clear that she was the most accomplished of her classmates.

Her name is Srey Peu and her story is quite fascinating. She's lived in the village all her life, and when she discovered that a famous smot master (the extraordinary Prom Uth) taught in the village she was keen to learn from him. Smot is a particularly difficult form of music for young Cambodians because the melodies and vocal style are unlike any other form, and the words use Pali and other cryptic vocabulary highly removed from everyday Khmer. Nevertheless, the form is deeply integral to Khmer culture andespecially Khmer Buddhism (over 90% of Cambodians are Buddhist). Cambodians believe that chanting smot is needed in order to pass the soul into the next life.

When Srey Peu heard of auditions for Cambodian Living Art’s (CLA's) smot class, she was very excited and joined the class immediately. After just two years, Srey Peu had excelled in her studies and was identified as one of the most promising students, especially due to her well-developed voice and amazing capacity to commit songs to memory. Srey Peu's beautiful voice is known throughout the region now and she's frequently asked to perform smot at local wats, much to the appreciation of older members of the community.

A friend who was visiting the class with me that day, was similarly impressed by what he saw and asked if he could help. After speaking to Prom Uth we discovered that Srey Peu was keen to move to Phnom Penh where she could study from other venerable Masters as well as improve her skills. CLA's staff identified her as one of the top students among CLA's 300 children, and agreed she should become one of three students receiving a scholarship for advanced study. Just like that a scholarship was funded for the year and Srey Peu moved to Phnom Penh.

A year on, and it's more than fair to say that Srey Peu has blossomed. She has enrolled and flourished at Sisowat High School (one of the best in Phnom Penh), excelled at her English class at Panasastra University, and is studying poetry and mohaory songs with Professor Yan Borin. Srey Peu's dreams on one day becoming a teacher and ambassador of one of Cambodian's oldest art forms doesn't seem so distant now.


2008 has been a brutal year in the financial world and unfortunately Srey Peu's original sponsor is unable to continue supporting her education. As a result we have decided to approach the broader blogosphere to see if we can continue to support Srey Peu. As a result we are launching an appeal for the $3500 we need to support a full year for Srey Peu (this will include all her studies and living expenses in Phnom Penh for the full year 2009).

I believe we can raise this money if we send this to enough people and they chip-in (as per the application!) Any excess funds (hopefully a scenario) will be used towards Srey Peu's next year of study.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for spreading the message. I hope all is well with you.


Anonymous said...

Khmer "smot" is a dying art, so Khmer should help to revive it.

Anonymous said...

Well, she can smot better with dick that for sure!

Anonymous said...

Publicize on ki-media is a bit risky of being attacked by vulgar. That's for sure happening here.
I know the intention of publicize here, but some others here will not let khmers unite and grow hand in hand to prosperity at all.

Are khmers intellectuals and writers here all prepared?Do not take things too personal...As long as you have done something good for the country...then you can feel good to save thousands alive...

Anonymous said...

ខ្ញុំរីករាយដែលបានឮព័ត៌មានរបៀបនេះ។​ សូមឲមហោរី និង​ស្មូត ខ្មែរថិតថេរហូតទៅ។

Anonymous said...

yes, smot is a starting point for her and more talent, young khmer singers. i'm sure, she'll eventually move on to more modern singing style and beats. didn't that how the late ms. ros sereysothea got started by singing for the local village and towns as a traditional khmer singing group of family. i encourage young, talented people to use their god given talents. sooner or later, people will notice them, once they start showing their talents and move to the city, etc... god bless cambodia.

ps: a career in singing dancing is not a bad thing as people are trying to make a living in anyway they can, by using their talents, etc... after life must go on as they country is calling for new generation of singers, actors, and so on...

Anonymous said...

ការស្មូតធម៌ ​គឺការផ្សព្វផ្សាយចំណេះនិងការយល់ដឹង