Khmer traditional music, many forms of dances, classical instruments are continuously celebrated and well-respected by people in and outside of Cambodia. However, one traditional music has not been given the limelight it equally deserves. The Pleng Arak, a local music that originated from the spiritual beliefs of our ancestors, is not widely known among people in this digital era.
Pleng Arak is still used by people in rural areas, especially by communities that still believe in spirits. But it’s fame has not reached the city, more so across the borders.
Arak band in Sangkum Rreas Niyum era aims to change the fate of Pleng Arak. Ly Mut, 84, first played the song when he was still 20, the time when the song was still popular among people in Cambodia.
“During the time when Khmer music was so popular and was at its peak, Pleng Arak and Pleng Neak Ta were well-known. People use them in various kinds of spiritual ceremonies, and even in wedding ceremonies. Sometimes, people use it to pray for rain and healing.”
There are various songs in Arak and Neak Ta, with each song signifying specific meanings for different ceremonies and spirits.
“Songs of Arak is about a spirit possessing a girl whereas Neak Ta is for a spirit possessing a boy. It needs some musical instruments including tro and drums. Music is really important. If spirits like the song we play, it will possess someone immediately.”
Though he serves as a tro player in a band, he still remembers the lyrics and rhythms of each Pleng Arak song even until now.
“My memories is always alive with Pleng Arak though Khmer Rouge traumatised me. I keep playing about 40 songs after that regime until now. Aside from making my living, I want next generation to hear and learn about it. However, no one seems to be interested. Not even my son,” Mr Mut said.
Pleng Arak, in this technological era, is popular among people in some areas of Cambodia such as Kampong Cham, Preah Vihear and Kampong Chhnang province.
“It makes me and other six members in the band busy travelling from one place to another. Though we all feel tired due to our ages, we keep playing it as we have learned from people in our age, aside from making good money, this music is rare. It is meaningful to us.”
Mr Mut feels sad to not have someone he can pass his passion to. But he is fervently hoping that the 40 songs and rhythms he had long practiced and mastered will still be known in the next generation. “I am concerned that it will soon disappear. However, my band will be very happy and willing to play if people want to hear its notes and lyrics,” Mr Mut said.