Chapei concert marks fifth year of UNESCO listing

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Poster announcing the big chapei dang veng concert in Kampong Speu on November 30. LIVING CHAPEI COMMUNITY

The Chapei Amatak Association (CAA) will present a group performance by musicians playing the chapei dang veng – the traditional Khmer two-stringed guitar – in Kampong Speu province on November 30 to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the instrument being placed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

CAA president Pech Sarath said on November 29 that the show, to be held in Thmey Chhongrouk village of Thpong district’s Ya Ang commune, will feature three generations of chapei dang veng players – including masters, journeymen and apprentices.

Sarath said that before the concert, which will start at 9am and run to 11am, there will be a folk game played called Chamroeun chapei dang veng and there are also volunteers from the Lakhon Khol Khmer Masked Theatre who will put on a traditional show as well.

Sarath said he had noted that young people in the modern era do not often meet to talk about the chapei dang veng or other ancient Khmer folk arts. Therefore, the concert is organised with three groups according to age and skill, because Khmer traditional arts will be in the hands of young people eventually and they must be instructed in these matters to prevent the traditions from dying.

“I encourage children to participate because they are the heirs and successors of the Khmer cultural heritage. If in the future we lose support, only the current youth and children learning these arts will be able to ensure they survive,” he said.

Sarath said the performance will include a song dedicated to the craftsman deity Preah Pisnukar (or Vishvakarma in Sanskrit). Another highlight would be when the elders and young people sing the Ladi Tra song together while all playing the chapei dang veng.

There will also be a display of 21 chapei dang vengs with some sized for children and others for women or men.

Funan Art group leader Sup Sakara said the show was a good starting point because an audience will always show up when there is a celebration like this.

The audience will be able to see the kinds of shows that their group put on and perhaps become more interested in Khmer traditional art, and with this longer chapei dang veng performance, the organisers can present the songs in their original formats to the audience.

“Those who come to the concert will hear chapei songs and learn chapei history. We hope the young people present become interested in the instrument and want to find out more or even decide to take lessons and learn how to play it themselves,” he said.

Sakara said that in order for the art form to catch on with the new generation of young people to encourage them to become more supportive of Khmer classical art, the current leaders in these art forms with the highest mastery of the skills required must spend time organising events like this one, motivating young people and educating them.

“If people know how to support Khmer traditional arts, then we believe that they will. So if there are training classes in the villages, communes or schools to make these arts more visible, there will be more support,” he said.

Siyonn Sophearith, the ministry’s director-general of techniques for cultural affairs, said on November 29 that the association and its artists have raised the value of Khmer traditional arts and the ministry fully supports their activities and encourages all associations related to the intangible Khmer cultural heritage to grow and expand.

He added that the ministry has promoted the event in the form of a memorial night on November 28 and via posts to social media like Facebook and with advertisements on television.

The ministry has also asked those who are masters in an art form that is part of Khmer heritage to train apprentices in the communities where they live.

According to Sophearith, the ministry also plans to attract more participants after noticing that there is more participation after two concerts with chapei dang veng performing the stories of Sovannasam Cheadok and Soben Komar.

“Those stories are very popular when done as a stage show and we can use them to showcase the chapei and increase people’s interest in it,” he said.