Using Cambodian traditional music to share COVID-19 safety tips

You may be familiar with the long-necked lute, known as a Chapei, already if you live in Cambodia, where it is played at weddings and funerals. The Cambodian traditional music called Chapei Dang Veng employs both rhyme and wordplay to share information and social commentary, and subjects can include Khmer poems, folk tales, and Buddhist teachings. While this tradition has been around for centuries in Cambodia, it’s easily adaptable to modern situations, including the COVID-19 pandemic. In this video, Master Kong Nay, uses Chapei Dang Veng to share public safety tips in Khmer about coronavirus.

Below the lyrics to the ចម្រៀងចាប៉ី-COVID-19 Safety Tips From Master Kong Nay video:

Wash your hands to protect yourself from catching coronavirus
Make sure to get soap into all the nooks and crannies
Do it often and for at least 20 seconds each time

Brothers, sisters, grandparents, please keep two meters distance from one another
Stay away from crowded places
Follow the guidance from the Ministry of Health

If you have a high temperature, a dry cough or trouble breathing
Please call 115 to ask for advice on what you should do
If you are advised to go to the clinic, please make sure you wear a correctly fitted mask

Master Kong Nay with his Chapei

Master Kong Nay with his chapei. Photo by James Dewar.

Master Kong Nay was declared a national living treasure by the Cambodian government in 2013, and is one of the few masters of this traditional Cambodian art that nearly disappeared before Cambodia Living Arts helped facilitate some of the masters of Cambodian art forms to train a new generation of artists and keep the traditions alive.

We caught up with Yon Sokhorn the head of Arts Development at Cambodia Living Arts to find out a little bit more about Chapei Dang Vang.

How important or significant is Chapei Dang Veng as a way of getting information to the people?

Sokhorn: “One of the traditional functions of Chapei Dang Veng artists in Cambodian society is to transmit important news and information to the community.

With diverse types of content, values and styles, Chapei is very effective in engaging people on particular topics because the singer can use particular tones, emotional expressions, or melodies that are sad or energetic to emphasize an issue, which is different from reading a text to lecture people. The singing itself also draws a deep inward response in people, like feelings of joy or sadness—like a wave going through their body.

We are really pleased that Master Kong Nay agreed to share this important information to Cambodian people through Chapei Dang Veng, and we are proud that CLA could play a role in Cambodian society this way.”

Is it unusual to transmit public health information using Chapei Dang Veng?

“Even though it is an unusual time, it is actually quite common to share educational messages through Chapei Dang Veng. In the case of Master Kong Nay’s video, it’s an educational message about public health.”

Kong Nay Cambodian Chapei player

Master Kong Nay, a Cambodian national living treasure. Photo by James Dewar.

In Chapei Dang Veng, are existing songs used with new lyrics, or or is each song original?

“With Chapei Dang Veng, you can do either, and Master Kong Nay has performed both original songs and added new words to existing songs for his own spin.”

How has Cambodia Living Arts promoted Chapei Dang Veng?

“When Cambodian Living Arts was founded in 1998, CLA’s original goal was to keep Cambodia’s endangered intangible heritage alive. In 2003, CLA began running Chapei Dang Veng classes, which were taught by Master Kong Nay to ensure the continuous transmission of the art form. Master Kong Nay taught two generations of students through these classes until he retired in 2009.

In that same year, CLA also supported one of Master Kong Nay’s first-generation students, Mr. Pich Sarath, to continue his legacy as a teacher. Sarath taught for CLA until 2015, and during that period CLA helped develop the Chapei class into a professional troupe, providing professional development training to equip the Chapei class with the necessary skills and resources to achieve independence and stability. The class later developed into The Community of Living Chapei (CLC)—led by Sarath—and then became independent from CLA in 2016. CLC currently has over 100 students.

In 2015, CLA collaborated with the ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, as well as other Chapei stakeholders to apply for recognition from UNESCO for the Chapei Dang Veng art form. As a result, in 2016, UNESCO recognized Chapei Dang Veng as Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding. CLA remains one of the implementing partners as part of UNESCO’s safeguarding plan.”

2 Responses to Using Cambodian traditional music to share COVID-19 safety tips

    Sigrid says:

    I love the master Kong Nay.amazing how he can still play so lovely at his advanced age.I wish him a very long life so we will enjoy his music for many more years .thank you for sharing this video.

    David Smith says:

    Lina thank you for the beautiful video I am glad they could save the traditions I will be happy when this virus dies I built a little scarecrow here. My future wife and her daughter are waiting to move to Cambodia and meet me there I just hope we can take the heat. It is a very beautiful country and we have made a friend already and have not even got there yet. If all the people in Cambodia are like this woman I don’t think we will ever be able to leave. She is a very kind person a former real estate agent who lost her job because of the virus. But still said she will help us. Take care David

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