Banteay Ampil Band : Cambodian Liberation Songs
Released in 1983, Cambodian Liberation Songs is a mysterious and overwhelming record. As a genuine piece of history, this “call from sorrow and fierce passion” makes use of a whole range of Cambodian music, from folk to rock, to express sufferings and complaints.
Extanded reissue including liner notes, exclusive photos, postcard and redeem code.
“When I arrived at the Khmer-Thai border in September 1980, disorganized resistance cadres were busy repairing old guitar instrument by using shing line for guitar strings and employing a rusty, empty gasoline tank as a drum. They played old Khmer pop songs. [ ...] They performed for themselves and for appreciative audiences of villagers. Other informal musical groups also came together to entertain themselves and others.
One day in 1981, I photographed what was generally called the Bamteay Ampil Band.”
Gaffar Peang-Meth, November 2016
Cambodian Liberation Songs is a painful call from forgotten resistance fighters. It is a captivating record, a touching testimony of Cambodian history that brings to the world the breathless voice of these resistance members from the Banteay Ampil Band.
Released in 1983, Cambodian Liberation Songs is a mysterious and overwhelming record. As a genuine piece of history, this “eloquent sadness and fierce passion” runs the gamut of Cambodian music, from folk to rock, expressing their suffering and pain.
On 17 April 1975, the Cambodian people, already crushed under national and international conflicts, was commanded by force to forget their own past; it was Year 0 of the Khmer Rouge calendar. Almost four years of genocide would follow before the start of a war between the Vietnamese army and the Khmer Rouge. Resistance units engaged in the conflict against what they considered a Vietnamese invasion. This record, produced by a resistance group, was given the reference number KHMER 001. It was undoubtedly the first record composed and performed by non-Khmer Rouge Cambodians after the tragic events of 1975-79.
The refugee camp of Ampil, near the Thai border, witnessed the creation of the Banteay Ampil Band. Musicians and female singers who had hidden their talents during the genocide, gathered around the composer and violinist Oum Dara to engage in a new struggle: the resistance. Oum Dara, who had been a composer for Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea among others, adapted several of his creations. It is therefore, with a poignant charm, that the Banteay Ampil Band binds together the golden age of Khmer music from the 1960s with the traditional repertoire and the context of their daily struggles. Violin, guitar and voices work together to produce melancholic and intense songs - the stirring tone of grief expressed by these resistant fighters.
The band went to Singapore to record Cambodian Liberation Songs, the only record of the “Khmer People’s National Liberation Front”.
“En septembre 1980, quand je suis arrivé à la frontière entre le Cambodge et la Thaïlande, les cadres désorganisés de la résistance s’employaient à réparer des vieilles guitares avec du le de pêche en guise de cordes. Pour la batterie, ils utilisaient des réservoirs d’essence vides et rouillés. Ils interprétaient de vieux morceaux de musique populaires Khmer. [ ...] Ils jouaient pour eux-mêmes et pour un public admiratif de villageois. D’autres groupes de musique se sont réunis.
Un jour, en 1981, j’ai photographié ceux que l’on appelait généralement le “Bamteay Ampil Band”.
Gaffar Peang-Meth, Novembre 2016
Appel douloureux des maquisards oubliés, le disque Cambodian Liberation Songs enivre et émeut. Témoin de l'histoire récente du Cambodge, il porte au monde la voix haletante des résistants du Banteay Ampil Band.
Sorti en 1983, Cambodian Liberation Songs est un disque mystérieux et bouleversant. Véritable pièce d'histoire, cet « appel du chagrin et de la passion ardente », se saisit de tout un pan de la musique cambodgienne, du folk au rock, pour exprimer douleur et revendications. Le 17 avril 1975, déjà écrasé sous des conflits nationaux et internationaux, le peuple cambodgien est sommé par la force d’oublier son passé, c’est l’an 0 du calendrier Khmer rouge. Aux quatre années de génocide qui suivent, succède une guerre opposant l’armée vietnamienne aux Khmers rouges. Des groupes de résistants prennent part au conflit contre ce qu’ils perçoivent comme une invasion vietnamienne. Ce disque réalisé par un groupe de résistants porte la référence KHMER 001. Il est sans doute le premier composé et interprété par des Cambodgiens non Khmers rouges après les événements tragiques de 1975-79.
C'est dans le camp de réfugiés d’Ampil, à la frontière thaïlandaise, que naît le Banteay Ampil Band. Rassemblés autour du compositeur et violoniste Oum Dara, des musiciens et chanteuses, qui ont caché leurs talents durant le génocide, s'engagent alors dans une nouvelle lutte, celle du maquis. Oum Dara, qui a notamment mis en musique Sin Sisamouth et Ros Srey Sothea, adapte certaines de ses créations. Et c'est avec un charme poignant que le Banteay Ampil Band lie l'âge d'or de la musique khmère des années 1960 au répertoire traditionnel, et au quotidien de leur lutte. Violon, guitare et voix s'accordent dans un chant mélancolique et intense, tonalité vibrante de la souffrance de ces résistants.
C'est à Singapour qu'ils iront enregistrer Cambodian Liberation Songs, l’unique album du "Front National de Libération du Peuple Khmer".
"The 2015 documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten told the tragic story of Cambodian rock musicians who thrived in the ‘60s and were killed when Pol Pot began his reign of terror in 1975. The Banteay Ampil Band’s 1983 album Cambodian Liberation Songs is, in the words of reissue label Akuphone, propaganda. But this largely plaintive and occasionally rocking music is the propaganda of resistance.
Oum Dara composed music in the ‘60s for singers like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea, who disappeared or were killed after the new regime outlawed any music that was not nationalistic. Furthermore, Pol Pot for the most part killed anyone who wasn’t a peasant, so his one-to-three million victims included many of the nation’s best-loved musicians. Oum escaped with just deportation, avoiding harsher punishment by keeping his talents a secret. He took shelter in a refugee camp in Ampil, near the Thai border, where he formed the Banteay Ampil Band.
Also known as the Band of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, the group went to Singapore to record their only album, distributed in vinyl and cassette editions like musical samizdat. While its music at times recalls the doomed artists on the Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten soundtrack, it’s an even more somber affair.
Oum, who played violin and keyboards, conducted members of the band, which included two female singers, three male singers, bass, two guitars, violin and drums. Song arrangements echoed music from an era that had been largely destroyed, and Oum and his group preserved its memory and inspired the resistance.
Even with the rock instrumentation, ballads dominate. “My Last Words” opens with a sorrowful vocal from female singer Khoy Sarim. “Please Take Care of My Mother,” led by male vocalist Meas Sopha, is a moody rocker with a biting one-note guitar line. The aching violin that opens “Tuol Tneung (The Hillock of the Vine),” a duet with Khoy and Meas, is a Cambodian blues that evokes the pain of genocide. “Please Avenge My Blood, Darling” is in a similar vein, the intense violin timbre accompanying Meas on another soulful lament.
Somewhat more upbeat, at least musically, is “Don’t Forget Khmer Blood,” a duet led by Nhep Davy and Khuon Khemarin that has a wistful melody and rock guitar fills. Melodic, reverbed surf-like guitar opens “Destroy the Communist Viet!,” another duet by Nhep and Khuon, and “Look at the Sky.” “Follow the Front” is appropriately martial, with a marching beat, and it puts the cheesy organ of the ballad “I’m Waiting for You” in a startling context of pre-Beatles pop appropriated for propaganda.
The album ends with its most rocking number, “The Vietnamese Have Invaded Our Country,” led by Khoy with a fuzztone guitar intro and a male chorus that almost affects a rockabilly hiccup. Perhaps it’s a function of Western music not reaching Cambodian ears, but it’s curious that this resistance music of the early ‘80s is in such stark contrast to the angry political punk that came out of the West in the ‘70s and ‘80s; The Dead Kennedys did not appropriate local musical styles for “Holiday in Cambodia.” Cambodian Liberation Songs documents the gentle music of a people struggling to recover from genocide. It’s sobering to hear pop music forms that seem so benign to Western ears used to tell the story of a national tragedy.
The release of this album coincides with a reissue that may be the label’s most entertaining entry yet. Lam Seung!! is an EP of sinuous Lao synth pop (and two contemporary remixes) by the mysterious Sothy, whom the label has been unable to locate. Akuphone’s growing catalog focuses on musicians who have endured great political upheaval, and Cambodian Liberation Songs is its strongest and most powerful release yet."
Pat Padua. Spectrum Culture. March, 2, 2017.
01 My Last Words (4:33)
02 Please Take Care Of My Mother (5:03)
03 Tuol Tneung (The Hillock Of The Vine) (5:11)
04 Don't Forget Khmer Blood (2:30)
05 Sereika Armed Forces (4:52)
06 Follow The Front (3:23)
01 I'm Waiting For You (3:09)
02 Please Avenge My Blood, Darling (5:14)
03 Destroy The Communist Viet! (4:29)
04 Look At The Sky (4:08)
05 Vietnamese Sparrows (4:08)
06 The Vietnamese Have Invaded Our Country (4:28)