Ros Sereysothea: រស់ សេរីសុទ្ធា

Ros Sereysothea (1948-1977) was a famous Cambodian singer during the nation’s thriving cultural renaissance. She sang from a variety of genres but romantic ballads emerged as her most popular works. Despite a rather short career she is credited with producing hundreds of songs and even starring in a few movies. Details of her life and fate during the Khmer Rouge is relatively unknown but it is generally accepted she did not survive.

Growing up relatively poor, Ros Sothea was the second youngest of five children and displayed vocal talent around the age of three or four. Her talent would remain relatively hidden until she was persuaded by friends to join a regional singing contest in 1963. It is believed that Im Song Seurm, a singer from the National Radio heard of Sothear’s talents and invited her to the capital, Phnom Penh in 1967.

In Phnom Penh, she adopted the alias Ros Sereysothea and became a singer for National Radio performing duets with Im Song Seurm. Her first hit, Stung Khieu debuted the same year and she quickly attracted fans with her clear and high pitch voice. Recognized as a national treasure she was honored by King Norodom Sihanouk with the royal title of “Preah Reich Theany Somlang Meas“, the “Golden Voice of the Royal Capital“.

By the 1970s, Sothear began experimenting in other genres. Her high, clear voice, coupled with the rock backing bands featuring prominent, distortion-laden lead guitars, pumping organ and loud, driving drums, made for an intense, sometimes haunting sound that is best described today as psychedelic or garage rock. And like the leader of the music scene, Sinn Sisamouth, Sothear would often take popular Western rock tunes, such as John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” and refashion them with Khmer lyrics.

Her career would continue until the Khmer Rouge captured the beleaguered capital, Phnom Penh in April 1975. Like everyone else when the Khmer Rouge took over, she was forced to leave Phnom Penh. There are many speculations regarding her fate from a variety witnesses. Her sisters insist that Sothea along with their mother and children were taken to Kampong Som province and executed immediately following the Fall of Phnom Penh.

With the cultural upheaval by the Khmer Rouge, scant evidence of Ros Serey Sothear’s life remains. However, many recordings have survived and have started to gain exposure through reissues on cassette and CD.

Songs by Sothea, Sinn Sisamouth and other Cambodian singers of the era, Meas Samoun, Chan Chaya, Choun Malai and Pan Ron, are featured on the soundtrack to Matt Dillon’s film City of Ghosts. Tracks by Sothea are “Have You Seen My Love”, “I’m Sixteen” and “Wait Ten Months”. Also “I’m Sixteen” was taken for the soundtrack of the 2010 movie of Detlev Buck “Same Same, but different”

The Los Angeles band Dengue Fever, which features Cambodian lead singer Chhom Nimol, covers a number of songs by Sothea and other singers from the short-lived Cambodian rock and roll scene. –condensed from Wikipedia biography.

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