Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Music – a propaganda promoting the Khmer Rouge socialist identity (via the Phnom Penh Post)

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Shortly after their rise to power in April 1975, the Khmer Rouge sought to change the social identity of the Khmer people.

Through forced relocation, expropriation of possessions and separation of family members, the regime sought to eliminate old identities as much as possible.

But one curious and often overlooked aspect of their re-education programmes is the use of music, as propaganda songs were employed to promote the Khmer Rouge’s new, socialist identity.

The strategy of using music to build identity has a strong basis in social science. Social groups form their identity largely through shared experience, and music provides a particularly powerful tool for creating such an experience.

Accordingly, music plays an important role in politics around the world, and has been used by governments and citizens alike for both noble and sinister motives. The collection of Khmer Rouge songs still held in the archives of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) provides a particularly valuable resource for understanding this phenomenon.

Studying the Khmer Rouge’s songs exposes the contradictory nature of socialist music.

In order to eliminate its citizen’s old identities, the Khmer Rouge was obliged to suppress contemporary music, which included popular music from the West.

This left them with primarily old, traditional Khmer music with which to promote the new, modern identity. Like the traditional music they imitate, Khmer Rouge songs were transmitted orally and survive today in the DC-Cam archives primarily in the form of recorded live performances.

 

Read the complete article on the Phnom Penh Post.

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