By Neay Krud'th
Neay Krud'th - Bomplich Bong Chol Tuv
Neay Krud'th - Thpoal Khuoch
Neay Krud'th - Annie
Dear KI Media and our friend P. from Long Beach:
I was absolutely awestruck like running into a dead old friend who has just risen up from his grave. In my previous life of forty five years ago, I was a fortunate young man to be briefly part of a Phnom Penh combo orchestra that had “All Star” musicians and singers in it, including Bung Yang Chheang aka. Samneang Rithy — a name and a title I believe he deserves every bit of it.
Everything mentioned in the previous posting about Bung Chheang are true and correct. As a young person and now a senior citizen, I have been so inspired by his attitude, artistic style and works which were strikingly different from the rest of his contemporaries who were primarily motivated by money and fame while living under the hypnotic spell of Sihanouk. I was too young and did not understand much about his philosophy or ideology back then. But since I’ve been away from home, every time I try to reminisce the “good old days” of my generation, the emerging style, and substance of the promising cultural mindset which pervaded that era, Bung Chheang’s personality, his brilliant choice of words and sounds he strategically embedded in his music and songs always assured me that I have not everything I knew were gone forever, I still have the map and the blueprint from the previous revolutionaries like Bung Cheang have passed on to me to carry on.
I realized a bit too late as I knew more about Khmer elite’s ideology, and the nuance and beauty of Khmer contemporary music Bung Chhieng was trying to bring to light for us to contemplate. Personally I believe Bung Chheang was a revolutionary, and a poet who was callously exploited for his artistic genius, but not his noble one-man crusade against Sihanouk tyranny. He was virtually an outcast; his contemporaries shunt him because almost all of them subscribed to Sihanouk’s demagogueries and lies. I remember many of my colleagues from the big bands (Yuthea Phirum and the Vithiyu Cheat orchestra: Sihanouk slaves) avoided him like a plague and did everything to stay away; the very few who embraced him were very brave indeed.
He joined our mix-and-match band to perform his unique compositions, and to help coach the ladies to sing his songs. During his break, he used to come and sit behind me and my drum in the back, and never stopped writing on his little carnet in the dimmed light, and smoking his pipe. His one and only favorite song was the famous French lost love song “ Les Feuilles Mortes” by Yves Montand, which he belched out so beautifully that brings tears to your eyes, two to three times a night on request from VIP guests.
Les Feuilles Mortes par Yves Montand
Autumn Leaves by Nat King Cole
I’ve learned to emulate his style of musical expression from listening to him performing his own songs nightly on stage with us, I have never stopped being mesmerized by his avant-garde embellishment on all his tune and lyrics that seemed to be way ahead of his time, but yet never leave the nuance of the original Khmer Sacrava or Khmer mothers’ Baby Lullaby. We all should have listened to him belching out Sacrava tunes which I believe none of the royal singers in the Royal Mahoari classical orchestra could match.
I truly miss him, and during the last few years I have managed to play piano and sing his tunes the best I could remember how he would want them to be interpreted. I have thrown these songs to a dust bin until today, when you all brought it up— my gratitude and praise to all who cherish, uphold, and preserve our lost generation’s cultural ideal, substance and style for posterity.
Here are two of Bung Cheang’s tunes which I wish to share and dedicate all of their grace and beauty to all Khmer unsung heroes like him.
The last I heard about Bung Chheang’s whereabouts was that he joined the 13th Infantry Brigade (Kampong Speu Route 4 Sector of Defense), commanded by another hero of the Anti-French movement and a fierce warrior-prince of the Army of the Khmer Republic — the late Major General Norodom Chantha Rainsy.
PS: Also included is a hit song by our then the crème de la crème of the period —the marvelous APSARA rock band, and their song — Annie.