RESEARCH CENTER: ANGKUOCH

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CHI Monivong’s unfinished Angkuoch Russey instruments (bamboo Jew’s harps), laid out for drying in the sun.Photo: Catherine Grant, 6 January 2020.

New British Museum project documents Jew’s harp in Cambodia

The new Endangered Material Knowledge Program of the British Museum has funded a year-long project (Oct 2019-Sept 2020) to document angkuoch, the Cambodian Jew’s harp. The process of making the angkuoch has never before been documented in depth.

The project is being led by ethnomusicologist Dr Catherine Grant (Griffith University, Australia), with team members Seng Song and Patrick Kersale from Cambodian Living Arts.

In Cambodia, angkuoch are found in several provinces both among the majority Khmer people and some ethnic minorities. Before the Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979), playing and enjoying angkuoch was a popular local pastime in village communities. However, angkuochis now highly endangered both as an instrument and as a performance practice.

Traditional social functions for playing angkuoch include as a rural pastime, as a way for young men to communicate and flirt with young women, and to accompany simple folk songs. Players and makers of angkuoch are typically men, though there appear to be no cultural restrictions on women playing or making the instruments.

There are at least three types of Cambodian angkuoch: one of bamboo (angkuoch russey), one of metal (angkuoch daek), and one that is stringed (angkuochksae). It is unclear whether there are any living instrument-makers who know how to produce angkuoch ksae.

Angkuoch russey is sometimes still found in village contexts, and is also produced as souvenirs for tourists.

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CHI Monivong is playing Bamboo Angkuoch.

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Ta BIN Song and his friend Ta SON Soeun are playing Iron Angkuoch.

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An Angkuoch Daek (iron Jew’s harp) made by BIN Song.Photo: Catherine Grant, 8 January 2020.

Angkuoch daek is almost non-existent in contemporary public life.

The project team is working with two rural village communities in Siem Riep province, where three instrument-makers have recently been identified. In Srah Srang Khang Choeung Village, Master KRAK Chi (69 years old) and his sons CHI Chen and CHI Monivong produce angkuoch russey.

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The project team (left to right):

Thon Dika (Videographer),

Say Tola (Research Assistant)

Dr Catherine Grant (Project Leader),

Song Seng (Project Collaborator),

Patrick Kersale (Project Collaborator).

Photo by: Mith Narong. 11 January 2020.

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