Most young Cambodians nowadays are obsessed with foreign pop culture and are not much interested in traditional Khmer art forms, according to Uy Latavan, who instructs the performing arts troupe Yike Amatak. She fears that young people are losing their identity as Khmers.
“Not many youth have an interest in classical arts. The purpose of this event is to remind them of traditional Khmer art forms and to improve their understanding of yike opera in particular. Most of them lack in-depth knowledge of their own national culture, so that makes it hard to express who they are,” Ms Latavan said.
At the recent yike performance, “Tom Teav,” which organized by Reek Sai day, Ms Latavan continues that yike opera is the hardest type of classical Khmer opera to perform and to compose, unlike the Bassac style. “I hope this event can help young Cambodians to learn more about Khmer art and history,” she said.
There are more than 20 forms of Khmer opera but the event showcased only the yike form, because it has been the most popular throughout Khmer history. Due to the many wars in Cambodia’s recent history, the yike opera was nearly lost, Ms Latavan said.
Chhum Phallay, 22, a student of finance and banking at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said, “I am so impressed by both the yike opera and the performances of the actors. I really appreciate the commitment shown by the teachers and all the actors, who put on an amazing performance.”
Ms Sophallay said she had noticed that traditional Khmer opera was almost forgotten by Cambodian youth because the majority of them are infatuated with foreign pop culture. But the recent event showed that Khmer people are still creative and can conserve traditional Khmer culture.
Cambodian youth should think about their own culture, which didn’t mean they have to be nationalistic, Ms Sophallay said. “However, they should realize that they have some marvelous things that other countries don’t have. And by knowing ourselves, it makes it possible to manifest our identities and nationality for other countries,” Ms Sophallay said.
En Sormanak, 23, a student of economics at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said, “Actually, it’s not the first time I have seen this show; I enjoy watching traditional Khmer performing arts. And I think it’s very important to attend, because when the artists see more people coming, they are encouraged and motivated to continue their work.
It’s really important to know who we are, and what our history is. Also, people should learn about their own culture first, before learning the culture of others, added Mr Sormanak.