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Auteur Fil de discussion: Leonard Cohen and Sinn Sisamouth  (Lu 3609 fois)
the mekong sessions
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« le: 15 Juillet 2010, 04:09:55 »

In the first of an eight part series on Leonard Cohen's upcoming Phnom Penh concert, Mekong Sessions writer Jimmy Baeck draws comparsion between Leonard Cohen and revered Cambodian singer/songwriter Sin Sisamouth.

At 2.00am on Monday August 26, 1970, Leonard Cohen took the stage at the Isle Of Wight Festival. Despite the late hour and cold conditions, Cohen, long-haired, unshaven and wrapped in a baggy, brown jacket gave what is regarded as one of his greatest live performances in front of a mesmerized audience of thousands.

His performance included Bird On A Wire, So Long Marianne and Suzanne, songs which have come to be regarded as classics. It was the perfect mixture of music, poetry and drama, the combination of which has made Leonard Cohen one of the most loved and respected songwriter/performers in the world today.

At the same time, thousands of kilometers and a cultural eternity away on the other side of the world, Sinn Sisamouth had attained a similarly unique position in the hearts of the Cambodian people. By 1970, Sisamouth already had a career spanning almost two decades. Beginning in the early 1950s, Sinn Sisamouth, like Leonard Cohen, became an original and prolific artist. His original compositions are said to number in the thousands.

Sisamouth became popular for both his romantic ballads as well as a bunch of hip-shaking songs with a strong groove based on music that was coming into Cambodia probably from Vietnam through U.S. Armed Forces Radio. These songs were characterized by layers of distorted guitar, swirling organ and a heavy backbeat. Based on popular Western tunes of the 60’s and 70’s such as Woolly Bully, Hey Jude & If You’re Going To San Francisco they represent a fantastic body of music and demonstrate the ability of Khmer musicians and producers to adapt and re-invent Western music.

 One very important talent that Leonard Cohen and Sinn Sisamouth share is their ability to write songs. Both of them have a distinctive style that presents their feelings about Love and Life, but does so in a manner that also reflects their culture at the time.

In keeping with the times in Cambodia, Sinn Sisamouth’s songs evoke a feeling of pastoral innocence; he regularly writes about love and betrayal. In a song called Smoke Breaks the String Of My Guitar, Sinn Sisamouth sings about being betrayed by his the dishonesty of his lover comparing a broken guitar string to his broken heart

The string of my guitar that she broke     it floats around      why so helpless

In the song, Have Pchum At Aranh, Sinn Sisamouth makes reference to Khmer traditions and refers to the belief that proper observance of the culture brings love and happiness with it.

In this Pchum season, where will we go sweetheart? Should we go to Kra Pourh Ha or Cham Par Reangsay Pagoda?

It is his ability to express his feelings and ideas in a simple yet poetic fashion that all Khmers can understand, that has ensured that his songs remain a part of contemporary Khmer culture.

In contrast, Leonard Cohen writes as much for himself as he does for an audience. His songs have the feeling of poems that have been put to music. Unlike the lyrics from most popular Western music, Leonard Cohen doesn’t allow himself to be limited by common conventions, giving his songs a very individual feeling. His lyrics are more confronting and challenging than Sinn Sisamouth. In one of his most famous songs Bird On The Wire he seems to be discussing the problems of trying to live his own life (rather than conforming to social expectations) and says:

Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

When he talks of love his ideas are very romantic but they have little to do with marriage or tradition; they are more about the emotions and passion of love rather than social conventions. In Dance Me To The End Of Love Leonard Cohen writes:

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through your panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love

Although they come from very different cultures, both Leonard Cohen and Sinn Sisamouth have earned a place of honor. It is testimony to their talent as artists that their music remains so popular.

Leonard Cohen will perform at the Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh on November 27 2010.

For more information about Leonard Cohen's Phnom Penh benefit concert visit: www.themekongsessions.com


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