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Cambodia & Culture : Lakhon Bassac, an art form still loved by the Khmer people

There are many types of Khmer theatre that survived and been preserved to this day. Among them is the Lakhon Bassac, an art form still appreciated by audiences, particularly middle-aged Cambodians.

We randomly interviewed several residents of the capital. Mrs Sun Kalyan, a 57-year-old Phnom Penh resident, confides that she is still interested in Lakhon Bassac and many other forms of traditional Khmer art, but rarely has the opportunity to admire them.

"When I was young, I used to watch Lakhon Bassac a lot, but it's much rarer now. When my village holds a big festival, the artists are hired to perform, but we're too busy to enjoy it, anyway, I continue to support the art," she says.

Ms Sun Kalyan explains that when she was young, when she and other villagers heard that there was a Lakhon Bassac play in the village, they would pack pillows, mats and kitchen utensils to enjoy the performance.

"Now we don't get to see performances as often because we're no longer in the countryside, we live in the city with our children and my husband, who works in Phnom Penh.

Another Phnom Penh resident, Mr Tuon Sarom, 62, is equally enthusiastic about Lakhon Bassac.

"For some forms of traditional art performances like the Royal Ballet, Lakhon Bassac and so on, we don't feel interested just by hearing them, but when we can admire them, we appreciate them a lot," he says.

"I haven't looked at a Lakhon Bassac piece for many years. But at the end of last year, my villagers invited a troupe to perform and I found it as spectacular and interesting as ever," he adds.

Lakhon Bassac is a form of spoken and sung theatre that draws on many disciplines: comedy, tragedy, song, dance and music. It appeals to middle-aged Cambodians, as young people seem a little hesitant, especially those who have never been able to appreciate this kind of classical art performance.

Tep Vong Piseth, a 16-year-old student, says he heard about Lakhon Bassac but never watched it. "I was studying, but I never saw it, so it's hard to say whether I support it or not. At school, the teachers say that it's an art form that should be protected and preserved", confides the young student.

The Khmer ancestors left behind many different art forms in addition to Lakhon Bassac, such as Yike, Ayai, Chapey Dang Veng, the Royal Ballet and many other traditional dances and theatres that represent the soul of the nation.

As far as Lakhon Bassac is concerned, Ol Sam Ang, troupe leader of the Lakhon Bassac khmer Ol Sam Ang, says that it is difficult to compare Lakhon Bassac with other modern art forms, particularly films and concerts.

"But if artists have a clear vision, we can continue to gain support and protect our traditional values," he says.

His troupe experienced many difficulties during the two years of the Covid-19 epidemic, but the good times seem to be returning.

"Before Covid-19, we were able to have more than 60 performances a year, but the two years of the health crisis were very bad. Now the situation seems to be better after the economic recovery," he says.

With regard to efforts to preserve traditional art forms, the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, H.E. Ms Phoeurng Sackona, recently stressed that all stakeholders must continue to work together to promote all cultural activities in a sustainable way.

H.E. the Minister also reaffirmed the Ministry's full support for cultural activities aimed at preserving and strengthening Cambodian culture, especially initiatives to establish cultural festivals or events to promote and provide opportunities for younger generations to experience and participate in the protection of the nation's cultural heritage.

Heng Panha - AKP

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