Arduousness in conservating Southern Khmer folk music


The culture of Southern Khmer arts has undergone a long process of development and created its unique identity. In which, Southern Khmer folk music with many different types has associated with the community’s daily life, cultural activities and traditional festivals. However, recently due to the impact of modern music forms, the Southern Khmer music has encountered many difficulties and been faded away.

Unique characteristic of Southern Khmer folk music

There are many different types of Southern Khmer folk music including Five-tone orchestra, Mhôry orchestra, Wedding orchestra and Sa Dam drum dance, A day singing, Cham Rieng Cha Pay, nursery rhymes, lullaby…which have been considered as an indispensable spiritual dish of Southern Khmer people in the past generations.

Composer Thach Mu Ni, Tra Vinh Ethnic Committee, shared: Cham Rieng Cha pay music, in particular, is a unique form of solo performance, that the performers sing and play with Cha Pay instrument. Cham Rieng Cha Pay is a storytelling series, sometimes filled with humour to make excitement. The contents are usually fairy tales, myths, folklore and good and bad stories for teaching people.

This type of folk performance art is very unique expressing human creativity and be able to adapt to contemporary circumstances. In 2013, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has put Cham Rieng Cha Pay in the list of national intangible cultural heritage.

Southern Khmer dance

A Day music with the form of singing and replying between men and women that the most popular types including duet, sometimes trio and quartet is also performed for fun, holidays and festivals… A Day is humorous and topical with real-life stories replied by singers in an impromptu way of poetry which is very sharp to attract listeners. Music of festivals, wedding  and Mhôry also has its own unique characteristics.

With the same viewpoint, Musician, Dr. Son Ngoc Hoang, Vice Rector of Soc Trang School of Culture and Arts, said: “The Khmer ethnic group in the South has currently inherited an invaluable cultural heritage from their ancestors. It is a treasure of Southern Khmer folk musical instruments which is characteristic and typical in traditional culture of Khmer people, especially in Mekong Delta region.

Throughout the history, the treasure of instrumental music has a positive meaning in life of the social community of Southern Khmer people, contributing to enrich the treasure of Vietnamese folk music and serving the community.

According to Meritorious Artist Thach Mo Ly (Cao Van Lau Theater), folk music plays an important role and a great value in the life of Southern Khmer people, expressed in cognitive, social, ethical and aesthetic aspects, that is necessary to be conserved and promoted.

Identity losing by the time

Being unique, however many types of Khmer folk music are facing the situation of being faded by the trend of deeper integration and exchange; the strong impact of Western civilization and the influence of modern music types have made Khmer folk music encounter many difficulties. Many of each are at risk of losing their identity.

Meritorious Artist Thach Mo Ly worries that the artisans and musicians participating in Khmer folk music performance are less and less; Many people are afraid to learn ethnic music, especially young Khmer people. In addition, the researching works on Khmer folk music are very limited, and lack of promotion and dissemination of cultural values ​​of Southern Khmer music.

Mr. Bui Cong Ba  from Department of Culture, Sports and Tourrism of Kien Giang Province pointed out the fact that the public music movement in Khmer people’s areas has been facing many difficulties due to lack of musical instruments, budget and actors. Many Khmer pagodas in Kien Giang do not have enough of ethnic musical instruments. The cultural institutions for the communes of ethnic minorities are still lacking; the State’s investment is limited while the socialization of is very arduous.

Ms. Pham Thi To Thy, Tra Vinh University, wondered: “One of the limitations is that many Khmer artisans and artists in field of Southern Khmer folk music have no high educational levels, even though they encounter many academic and professional obstacles in conservating  and promoting of cultural activities. In addition, students of the Ethnic Boarding School or Khmer students are not interested in learning ethnic music. The professional training facilities on Southern Khmer art in the South are always lacking of learners.”

Typically, Tra Vinh University is the only place in the country which has major of Performing Southern Khmer musical instruments at university level. But the number of students attending is only 29 students from 2012-2019, even if the university has given many incentive and support policies.

Facing this situation, Mr. Pham Thi To Thy proposed that functional branches should promote propaganda to raise the community’s awareness on the urgency of conserving Southern Khmer folk music, especially in universities, Art schools and Ethnic Boarding schools. The State should have policies to invest in restoring a number of musical types which are at risk of losing identity such as Cham rieng Cha pay, nursery rhymes and Lullaby … Conservation should also be associated with local tourism development in order to improve people’s life.

According to Musician, Dr Son Ngoc Hoang, conserving and promoting the national cultural identity in the trend of socio-economic development and global integration are necessary but very difficult. Conserving cultural values ​​requires a consistent policy that helps Khmer community to be aware of the precious heritage inherited by their ancestors, thereby protecting and transmitting it to the next generation. In order to do the above tasks, it is necessary to have proper attention of the functional branches, the State’s investment and the participation of Khmer ethnic community – the subject of the musical culture.