Khmer release for Ros Serey Sothea story

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Avatar Publishing founder Huot Socheata and the cover of The Golden Voice graphic novel. SUPPLIED

The Golden Voice, a 200-page graphic novel describing the life and career of Ros Serey Sothea, one of the most famous female singer of Cambodia’s “Golden Age” of the 1960s, is to be published in Khmer in December.

Cambodian publishing house Avatar has acquired the rights to translate the graphic novel, written by American director, producer and screenwriter Gregory Cahill and illustrated by comic book artist Kat Baumann, into the Khmer language.

Serey Sothea sang hundreds of songs between 1967 and 1975, earning her the title “Queen with the Golden Voice” from Norodom Sihanouk.

Like many of the performers of her time, she disappeared during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

“When I saw the life of Ros Serey Sothea being revealed in a graphic novel format with diligent research and quality illustrations, I was more than delighted. Serey Sothea deserves her recognition.

“I feel that fate made me the editor of the Khmer translation. What an honour!” said Huot Socheata, the founder of Avatar Publishing.

Avatar Publishing was founded in 2022 by Socheata to publish Khmer and international literature across a range of genres.

“When I first saw the social media promotion for The Golden Voice, I enquired whether there was a publishing house for a Khmer language version.

“And when the answer was no, we made a few appointments with the author to discuss the purchase of translation rights, and we reached an agreement without difficulty,” Socheata said.

The Golden Voice will also include online links to listen to the songs that tell the story, and Socheata said they are on track to meet the release date of the end of 2022, with the graphic novel in the translation stage.

“I am currently translating from American English with the help of writers and experts in this field, as well as consulting with veteran author Chut Kay, especially related to vocabulary, idioms, names, places, and the role of some real-life characters.

“After this, there will be a review by the Ros Serey Sothea family. The book is 200 pages long and includes an introduction and explanation.

“A special feature is that not only it is a beautiful picture book, readers can also listen to pre-selected songs on the internet that match the storyline. This new experience helps readers feel like they’re watching a movie,” Socheata said.

Cahill spoke of his excitement at The Golden Voice being published in Cambodia in the Khmer language.

“I’m so happy that Ros Serey Sothea’s legacy continues to echo across generations.

“The overwhelming enthusiasm from young people in Cambodia is incredibly exciting. It feels like the book is headed home,” he said.

After hearing Ros Serey Sothea’s beautiful songs, Cahill became increasingly curious about the singer’s background, spending years researching her biography until he had uncovered the details.

Having initially planned to make a film, in 2019 he decided to turn the story into a graphic novel instead, with The Golden Voice completed in 2021.

Actively working with well-known American artist Baumann, Cahill spent much time searching for pictures and documentary videos of Serey Sothea.

While Serey Sothea passed away nearly 50 years ago, her hundreds of beautiful songs continue to be listened to by many, who solemnly observe that “the singer has passed away, but the songs are still alive”.

Born in Battambang around 1948, Serey Sothea’s friends encouraged her to participate in a provincial song contest in 1963, where she won first prize.

Her first hit song Stung Khieu (Blue River) came to popularity throughout the Kingdom in 1967.

She also starred in films. Her contribution to Cambodian music has ensured she has become one of the faces of the 1960 Golden Age alongside the “King of Khmer Music” Sinn Sisamouth, with she herself earning the moniker “Queen of the Golden Voice”.