Song: Prawat poaun kong lene by Nong Nay (2004) from the album Combodge. Visitors can listen to the Featured Song by clicking the play button above.
Kong Nay is a Cambodian musician who plays the chapei dong veng. He is one of relatively few great masters to have survived the Khmer Rouge era, and is known as the “Ray Charles of Cambodia”. -wikipedia.org
Contracting smallpox as a young child, Kong Nay was blind by the time he was four years old. It wasn’t until he was seven, however, that he realised the extent of his ailment and how it would affect his future. “I became a musician because of my blindness,” he says. “I cannot read or write so I thought that learning an instrument would be a good way for me to make a living. When I was 13, my father bought me my first chapei and my uncle taught me how to play.” Listening to the flawless pulse of Kong Nay’s performance, it’s hard to believe such perfection could be achieved without the ability to see. “To learn how to play, I would first ask my teachers to play the songs for me. I would then listen carefully to the rhythms and intonations of the music and try to replicate that,” he says. After two years of training, Kong Nay put on his first performance in his village at the age of 15. Today, aged 68, he has undoubtedly taken his place among the legends of Cambodian music. All-star jam sessions, international tours and praise from industry bigwigs have all dotted Kong Nay’s career, but it was a performance in Sihanoukville that remains his fondest memory. “When I was 17 years old I was invited to play at a temple in Sihanoukville,” he says. “I was so excited as I was so young and there were so many people there to watch me. The song I played was a kind of parting song. It was very meaningful for me. I will never forget that day.”
Kong Nay’s life has certainly not been without its perils, though. As an artist, and an often satirical one at that, he was deemed dangerous by the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for the displacement and murders of about 90% of the Kingdom’s artists and intellectuals. In 1979, Kong Nay and his family almost became victims of the brutal regime as they were marched from their home to the killing fields to be executed. If it weren’t for Vietnamese soldiers rescuing them at the very last minute, Kong Nay’s story would have been abruptly cut short. Although the Khmer Rouge permanently affected arts and education in Cambodia, Kong Nay is confident that the ancient chapei tradition will live on. “The chapei became very popular among Cambodians for its ability to tell stories. The music educates people in how to live a good life and be a good person,” he says. “Many young people today like the chapei, and not only that – many also come to me and ask me to teach them how to play.” -Jemma Galvin via the Southeast Asia Globe