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Traditional Artists Say Samphor Drum is an Indelible Part of Khmer Culture

PHNOM PENH: Some traditional Khmer artists have expressed disappointment and anger in seeing the use of the ‘samphor’, a traditional Khmer drum, as a table in an online variety show hosted by Ping Ann Oung. They have said they consider this act to be a serious insult to Khmer traditional musical instruments.

Keo Prasidhthy, a famous producer and player of the samphor, said that he considers the usage of the instrument as a table to be a major insult to ancient Khmer culture because the samphor is an instrument that has been respected by Khmer ancestors for a long time, it can even be found in ancient temple carvings, and was also considered by Khmer ancestors to represent the soul of the Khmer nation.

“This is a big insult, if he did not know then it is okay, but he knows and this is not right, because this instrument has existed for a long time," he said. "The first generation of instruments like the samphor, flute, and Khim, are the soul of all Khmer traditional instruments.”

Professional dancer, Hanh Pisal, who has been playing the samphor for 20 years, said he could not accept this insulting act, as the drum is an ancient instrument that artists have always respected as a valuable relic representing Khmer culture.

“The samphor is something that should be worshiped, [offerings made before playing] include five layers of rice, incense, and all kinds of fruits," he said. "When we see something that we respect [being insulted], to speak plainly, it is as if they were putting a glass of water on top of our God’s head, I felt hurt [seeing that]. We, the artists of the ancient arts school, we try very hard to take care of these instruments.”

In addition to traditional Khmer artists, there are also those who love traditional Khmer musical instruments, such as the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, Em Chan Makara, who reacted to this incident saying it showed a lack consideration and respect for the instrument.

“Is there a lack of tables??? The producers of this program did not make an in-depth consideration of how valuable the drum equipment from our ancient Khmer heritage is," he wrote in a Facebook post. "The samphor, before a concert, musicians always burn incense as offerings. Other Khmer traditional drums are used to celebrate victory.”

Secretary of State Em Chan Makara added that he supports the content of the interview and the production of such programs, but he strongly opposes the use of this valuable Khmer classical instrument being used as a table to place glasses of water and which guests can almost place their feet on.

He further wrote, "Was this intentional or unintentional? I hope the owner or producer does not just delete the video and properly reflects on their actions."

The Dean of the Faculty of Music at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Keo Dorivann, has said that this was not the first time that the samphor had been used as a table placed on the ground without clear understanding. For Professor Keo Dorivann, the samphor is a great teacher, like a parent to a child.

"It is used in the royal dance in Pin Peat music, the samphor is used to pay homage to a teacher, they play the samphor to show respect," he said. "In the Royal Ballet, Samdech Preah Ream (a God), whether he is the son of a king, a great teacher or an ordinary person, before the performance, they have to burn incense pay their respects to the samphor and ask for happiness.”

He further added, "If we, the Khmer people, have little understanding of classical music, we would not even notice this issue, but we are worried that our neighbors who respect and understand [the importance of this drum, will see this incident] and put us down even more.”

The Professor said he does not blame the producer of the show, whether they did this intentionally or unintentionally, but advises that before they have a clear understanding or consult a Khmer traditional art expert first before using any traditional Khmer instruments, to avoid a similar case from happening again.

In response to these criticisms, Ping Ann Oung, the creator of the online show ‘Think with PingAnn’, released a video apologizing for his mistake and also deleted the original video in question. He stated that he had no intention of insulting the traditional instrument.

"At the place where I was sitting in the interview, I did not know at all, and did not think properly, I put the drum in front and put a glass of water on it, it is 100% my mistake, I did not think about it properly," he said.

He also thanked the many artists who commented for educating him and providing constructive criticism and explanations.

He said that he will take this experience as a lesson to improve himself and assured that he will do careful research in the future before using such instruments as props.

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