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 and especially Khmer Buddhism (over 90% of Cambodians are Buddhist).
Since 2004, Srey Pov has been studying Smot, a traditional form of chanting poetry and funeral songs with CLA. Today, she embodies a new generation of performers who study traditional art forms that often intimidate younger generations. She plays an entire role in raising awareness about this art form and has been teaching Smot to younger students for two years with the organization CVCD. She also regularly performs. Two years after her Smot tour in the US, we come back to her and try to know better a young Cambodian artist who is asked to perform worldwide.
You are flying to Australia today. What are you going to do there?
The Cambodian Buddhist Society of New South Wales invited me to perform Smot every weekend, and during special ceremonies from early April to early May at the Wat Khemarangsaram temple in Sydney. Of course I will also sing to celebrate Khmer New Year on April 14, 15 and 16!
You are also asked to perform at the Houston Grand Opera in the US, in the contemporary opera New Arrivals. It seems you are starting to become famous?
Yes! Actually people in Cambodia know me as I regularly perform on a TV program on the renowned Cambodian channel, CTN. I never wished to be famous, and I even think it is dangerous. But, finally I am happy to have a chance to start my career as a Smot artist and to raise awareness about this outstanding art form. At temple two weeks ago, people who saw me on TV asked me to perform for them. I started closing my eyes and sharing the chanting with this small audience, and at the end when I opened my eyes, many observers had joined and were listening to me! I was also asked to sing pop music on a TV program, but I always refused: I prefer to focus on traditional arts.
What did the learning of Smot chanting bring to you?
Smot gave me everything. Before, like all other children, I was afraid of the art form that is often dedicated to funerals, but I finally took the opportunity that CLA was offering me in Kampong Speu province. When I knew one song, I chanted it for other people and they were so enthusiastic that it immediately gave me the will to learn more. I learned to understand and like this art form. In addition, studying Smot gave me a chance to move to Phnom Penh and pursue my studies at university as I received a CLA scholarship. It also provided the opportunities to be broadcasted on TV, to tour internationally, and to earn money and support my family!
What do you wish for the future of this art form? Do you plan to use your experience to develop it?
Most of people who are interested in Smot are elderly people. I wish to raise awareness about this art form among all Cambodians, including young people. From my point of view, I am still exploring Smot; I try to find Masters and learn new songs, and I listen to CDs to find unknown chants... I would like to share this with as many people as possible. I think it is important to integrate traditional arts like Smot in contemporary works, like in New Arrivals. People must not forget their traditions, but we live in a modern world. Life is better when you mix both! Finally, I am studying English at the university, and I want to use this skill to spread the word about this magnificent art form throughout the world.
Thanks to Smot, you went to the US, Nepal, India Australia, and now a Singaporean NGO wants you to perform there in November. How does Smot make the link between all these different places?
I think that Smot is a universal art form, especially for Buddhists. It tells Buddhist precepts and morals. Even if I sing it in Pali and Khmer languages, I think it is accessible to everyone.
What would you like to tell to your readers from the other side of the world?
I am so happy that I joined CLA to learn Smot and I want to thank all donors who supported our class. I don’t want this art form to disappear and I wish we will have more supporters in the future to prevent this from happening. Please come to Cambodia, see it, and spread the word! I will even sing for you! I will carry Smot with me all my life.
CONDUCTED ON APRIL 2ND, 2012, BY MARION GOMMARD
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