In a bid to encourage Cambodian women to learn to play the chapey dong veng, Chapey Armatak Community, a partner of Khmer Living Arts Community, has begun teaching volunteers to play the traditional Khmer stringed instrument.
The organisation started teaching people to play the chapey almost three years ago. According to Keat Sokim, co-founder of Chapey Armatak Community, among the 20 people it is currently training, two are women.
One of these, Chhith Phearum, 27, has been playing the chapey dong veng for more than a year. She was really surprised when she brought Chapey Dong Veng to perform and a person came and asked her about that instrument.
Ms Phearum said that she was surprised after someone confused the chapey dong veng with a new generation guitar.
She decided to study the chapey because so few others were interested in preserving this piece of Khmer cultural heritage, and also to boost the number of women players.
Initially, Ms Phearum wanted to learn the guitar, but she got interested in the traditional instrument when she saw a performance by a group led by Pich Sarat. She said the performance left her with goosebumps. She knew then and there that she wanted to be part of such a group.
“Cambodia has a beautiful culture. Why aren’t we all studying this?” Ms Phearum recalls asking herself during the performance.
Ms Phearum said that her chapey performances have been warmly received by both local and foreign audiences.
“Even foreigners respond emotionally to the sound of the chapey, though they don’t know much about it,” she said. “Is it hard to understand why? Hearing this instrument accompanied by a singer is very moving. It’s really powerful,” she said.
“In other countries, people learn about their own culture before learning about other cultures. We should do the same; we have many things to learn, as our culture is an ancient one.”
Ms Phearum added: “Some of our neighbours are trying to claim what we have as their property, but what about us? Are we just going to ignore the danger of losing our culture? Why don’t we try to protect what’s ours? Let’s not wait until it’s too late.”