PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The band lines up along the street with a giant blue box in front of them, playing classic Khmer tunes for passers-by and local fans alike.
As the lead singer grips the microphone and presses it to her lips, a pedestrian drops 1,000 riel into a small slot on the top of the blue box and keeps walking.
These musicians, all hailing from Leuk Daek District, Kandal province, are blind, although the casual observer might not immediately notice.
One day they hope to share the stage with Cambodia’s brightest stars. Until then, they sing to raise money for themselves.
Parked along Sihanouk Boulevard early in the morning, the musicians catch the ear of many on their way to work. They sing upbeat songs occasionally, but most of the songs are self-written and describe their difficult lives as blind Khmers.
Ku Lar, the keyboard player, serves as the director of the makeshift band. He is only 16 years old, and in addition to playing keyboard, he sometimes sings songs as well.
The band has 12 members, and all of the funds acquired from donations go towards their survival. Things are not easy for the band because they often have to deal with police who try to move them off the busy sidewalks.
“We make around $20 to $30 a day. Sometimes when we play in public places such as a market or the street, the authorities ask us for permits and try to throw us out,” he said.
Sar Menear, A Phnom Penh resident who often walks along Sihanouk Boulevard and sees the group, said they should receive support from the government or NGOs to improve their skills and help them find better jobs.
“Sometimes I don’t give money to them, but them using their ability like this is better than them begging for money. The government and other NGOs should help them with their music skills,” he said.
Toch Sreypov is a 14-year-old singer who said she was blind from birth. She stopped going to school because her parents ran out of money.
“I wish blind people in Cambodia were spotlighted more, and people like us could make real money based on our talent,” she told Khmer Times.
“I wish we could live a better life rather than begging for money. For me, I find it difficult to beg for money from someone. What will happen when I can’t sing?”
Touch Channy, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans & Youth Rehabilitation, said the ministry has devoted resources to blind people and is focussing on their plight.
“The ministry is working to find them a public place for them to play music, but I can’t say when the ministry will approve it. We have a place to train them also but I don’t remember where it is,” he said.
Mr. Lar spoke of his dreams of performing, but also understood the realities of his situation.
“Yes, sure, I hope one day fame will come to us,” he said. “But it may be impossible because it would take a miracle.”
For events and performances, Mr. Lar can be contacted at: 010-413-894.