A Photo-Ethnographic Study, Cambodia, On The Road, Photographic Stories, Siem Reap, Social Documentary Projects
Comments 65

SINGSONG : Finding the King With a Golden Voice of Cambodia – A Photographic Film

In December 2018, I rented a bicycle and started recording songs of the people I would meet in my travels around in Cambodia. Through the sound filled in my ears I slowly started seeing. But few days later I realised listening, sitting in a room that all the songs that people sang were of the same singer. Sinn Sisamouth, the father with the golden voice of Cambodia.

I started researching on this singer and soon learnt that Sinn Sisamouth was the most revered singer of Cambodia and South-east Asia then. He had gone missing under mysterious circumstances and was most likely killed in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge regime. And his songs were banned for the next four years to come.

Khmer rouge was in power from 1975-79. It is estimated that the brutal regime claimed the lives of more than 1.9 million people. That was around 28 percent of the total population of Cambodia, eliminated. The regime tried to control and take the country back to the Middle ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the country side. It is said that more than half of Cambodian natives died from execution, starvation, overwork and years of diseases that followed later.

In my brief travels in Cambodia I observed the silences and the sounds that went through me while hearing his songs through the people I met on the road. There were instances when I realized tears coming down from people’s eyes, some went cold either looked away into nothingness due to some memories that encapsulated them. Many old people seemed to still have not recovered from the terror that their own people had inflicted upon them.

I had hardly started embracing Khmer while working on Singsong; but an unforgettable interaction that needed no language; with an old Cambodian man, who upon hearing that a foreigner wanted to hear a song of Sisamouth, laughed without any sound for so long, kept his hands on mine, stood slowly and kissed on my cheek. He then told me in joy with his frail arms up in the air that Sinn Sisamouth was a bird himself. He wandered and sang for the trees, and the wind, for rivers, and the mountains and that I can find him in each one of them.

Singsong is my tribute to this beautiful country and her people. And I thank Sinn Sisamouth who blessed me to see with his sounds as i heard the natives singing songs inside me.

While collecting/archiving songs for this story, I felt welcomed by the father himself who in his living years was known as having the golden voice of Cambodia.

And to for you hear his songs i am sharing this short Photographic Film with you all.


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Thank you.

If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

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I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;

Sharing some Lessons that awakened me while travelling Solo for Years on the Roadbefore you coarse on youown Road to Nara.

You might also love to know about My Little School

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I will appreciate all your support; your words or any contributions you might like to make towards my travelsyou can do so here.

If you have anything to share, feel like saying a hello, or sending in a review of the Blog, please feel free to write to me at nara@road-to-nara.com

To Know more about me, please visit my long-term Visual Ethnographic works here at Home.

To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at 
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Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.


  1. So surreal…this is beyond words Narayan..pain..joy…tears..all ingrained in the images and your description. You are blessed with not just with talent but also with the callings.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes Narayan…few rewinds…the song…to be precise the music… although i couldn’t understand the lyrics..but therein lies the beauty of music…you need not know the words…music is powerful enough. Your narration..bit by bit collected voices and the last frame…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I did watch it. I thought your images complemented the Cambodian singing respectfully. The singing is quite different to anything I’ve heard before, though I can’t understand it, it has a very emotional sound.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good morning from India dear Tone, Emotional singing and they are extremely emotional people. While working on the story even i couldn’t understand it but that was the whole part, finding Sin sisamouth’s sounds in things i was looking at. Thanks Tone.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Your simple story captures the soul of a resilient people who have suffered much pain and loss. You remind us, too, that the music and songs of a people have the power to sustain them in their darkest hours. Thank you for this glimpse into their world ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rosa, thank you for your words, seeing and understanding the foundation of all this. You know it is so encouraging for me to have someone like you, around. Hope you also saw the short film Rosa.


  3. This is one of your greatest post, Narayan. I was moved to tears while watching the film. I know, of course, the inhumanity that was happening in Cambodia, but I didn’t know the songwriter and his song, and the inspiration he took from the natural world around him. Thank you, I learned something very important, unforgettable today. My blessing to beautiful Cambodia and its people.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful post. Dhanyavaad. (I think Hindi might apply) 😉
    I lived in cambodia for 2.5 years in the late 50’s. My father worked for Sihanouk.
    My very first visual memories are form Phomnh Penh. I was 3. And I do like the sound of Cambodian music.


    • Hey, lovely to read from you, you did pick some hindi on the way, very warming.

      Late 50s !!!! Cambodia is magic. People and yes the sound.

      Where are you living now ?
      And thanks, you are heartily welcome ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, supposedly, I learnt Urdu before I did French or English. I was born in Karachi, a few years after the Partition. Forgot most of it. Except for a few words: Shukriya. (Useful) Karo. Djaldi… Ao. But I do have many Indian E-firends (Dhost?) who teach me a word here and there.
        We now live in Mexico.
        Phir milenge. 🙏🏻

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kya baat hai, bahot khushi hui jaankar. Aapka swagat hai.

          Its beyond my imaginative years to feel those years after partition, and children growing, playing in the fields then. It is wonderful to know dear friend.

          These words were long overdue as i was away walking in the Himalayas.

          Mehi(x)co. mui bein.
          Shukriya. Jaldi milenge.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Shukriya “back” at you… 😉
            I am left with home work: I remember teek hai, so swagat hai must have a relationship? I will look it up.
            And I assume Jaldi milenge is faster than Phir milenge?
            (Jaldi Ao)

            Liked by 1 person

          • Theek hai… I’ve looked it up… Kya baat hai = very nice? Bahot khsuhi hui jaankar = I am sorry knowledgeable?? Sorry you forgot? 🤣 And ‘Aapka swagat hai’ I think I heard before = ‘welcome’
            Walking in the Himalayas sounds good for peace of the soul…
            Phir milenge. 🙏🏻

            Liked by 1 person

            • Kya baat hai is praising the other one in a ‘nice manner’,

              Bahot khushi hui jaankar is, I feel very happy to know.

              Yes, my friends. Just got back a day before from deeper forests in the Himalayas. It was sound to the soul.

              Phir Milenge

              Liked by 1 person

            • Kya baat hai then, Narayan. (It is a very good phrase to remember… I will use it with my Indian E-friends…)
              Dhanyavaad for giving those words back to me.
              And bahot kushi hui that your soul was refreshed…
              Phir milenge.

              Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome dear Silver Screenings, thank you so much for the words, they are memorable because they come from a mind who is seeing and hearing.

      Imagine i was working on the singer completely on the sound he created, even though i picked up Khmer so fast that i had surprised myself too.

      Thanks, lovely to have you and words here.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing this with me via my own blog. The singing in your video is beautiful and many of your photos haunting. I hadn’t heard of Sinn Sisamouth and I’m glad to have been introduced to him. His story, sadly, is that of many but I can see that he lives on through people’s affection for his songs.


    • A pleasure Sarah. It is only my duty to tell about this soldier of nature. I will hope that through you him and his story will live as long as it should.

      Thanks so much again.


  6. I enjoyed your documentary of your travels in Cambodia and your collection of singsong songs. A very interesting You Tube clip as well.


    • Dearest Dwight, I am happy that you shared what you felt. Also because this time and this project has been very close to my heart. Because of the people who showed me something deeper, than already what i had known. Thank you for your kind comment. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It was nice to hear the Khmer language again. My father worked for Unesco and we were in Phnom Penh 56-18. Then I returned there to attend boarding school 1961-62 It is a beautiful country and the people I remember were beautiful and kind. I was stunned by what happened there. Have read some of the appalling stories. I don’t know how the survivors managed to rebuild their lives. Yet I know they did and I hope they have recovered the great culture that was obliterated by the Khmer Rouge, their stories and their art. It has been a very long time since I was last there but I shall always carry Cambodia in my heart. Thank you for this, Nara.


    • Lovely to learn your rich experience there Caro, from 56 to 18 is like home. More than half a century and what a period. You even took education there, wow.

      Its rustic and homely, really beautiful in its simplicity. Can’t imagine how close Cambodia must be to you and family, as it is in mine for what it offered me in a small period.


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