Traditional Khmer Music

Written by iHeartKhmer, April 28, 2019

Khmer is the main culture known throughout Cambodia, with ninety percent of its population Khmer.  The culture of Khmer has been around through many years, despite the Khmer Rouge’s actions to demolish it.  The Khmer people have been preserving their traditional music because they are very passionate about their culture.  The traditional music of Khmer is an important part of Khmer’s history and it is amazing that the pre war culture lived through the four years of Khmer Rouge’s rule at all.

When Khmer Rouge ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 they made strong efforts to destroy all the Khmer’s culture including the way they dressed, talked, greeted, danced, and even their music and arts.  They closed down all art and music facilities and destroyed every cassette and recording that they could find, including the recording studios. Amazingly, after the reign ended, the Khmer people went straight into action to try to bring the music back, passing it through generations, and trying to rerecord the music and preserve what they could remember.

The traditional Khmer music is a very important part of the Khmer people’s lives.  There are many types of Khmer music, but they use the same type of instruments throughout all their traditional songs.  The main traditional instruments used in the Khmer culture are roneat ik, roneat thung, khloy, tror so tauch, tror ou, krapeu, khimm, chhing, and thuan-rumnaneas.

While these instruments may not sound familiar, they are much like the instruments we are accustom to.  A Roneat ek sounds like a high-pitched xylophone, while a roneat thung sounds like a low-piched xylophone.  Khloy is more of a duct or fipple flute. Tror so tauch looks like a medium-height two-stringed fiddle, while a tror ou is a low-pitched two-stringed fiddle.  Krapeu is a three-stringed zither, which is a sort of mix between a guitar and a harp. Khimm is a hammered dulcimer. Then chhing are small cymbals, and thaun-tumaneas is a set of two drums.

It is said that the traditional Khmer music “connects earth and heaven.”  This is because the traditional music was used to communicate with the spirits.  The traditional music was so important to the Khmer people because it felt like you had the spirits around you when you get into the harmony of the traditional music.  It is said that “the sound is so powerful, it will cover your soul and let you find a moment to relax in peace.”

For this reason, it actually saved a young boy named Am from the Khmer Rouge.  He was one of five boys chosen to learn to play the Khimm. He was allowed to survive because he played so well, and they had him play for the soldiers.  Plus, he was given more food than the other children in the camp, so it enabled him to survive. Am has said that it was more of getting to hear the sweet sound of the Khimm that saved him because it helped him find peace in the chaos of all chaos.

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