Neak Ta is an arts project in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. It’s a small operation, modest in its own way, but it’s got a big vision: to give Cambodia back its music. Which, without wanting to sound too poetic, is another way of describing the country’s intangible heritage.
But first some brief history. When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, it instituted a Year Zero policy: anyone who objected (and hundreds of thousands of those who didn’t even get a chance to object) was murdered. The intention – a paranoid, totalitarian one – was to erase all previous and present manifestations of an entire culture, its weight and its resonances through history, for future generations. Those who could escape did. Some were able to preserve something of their culture in exile. In, for example, the Little Phnom Penh area of Los Angeles, Cambodian surf rock has been taken up enthusiastically by bands such as Dengue Fever (whose Sleepwalking through the Mekong album from 2009 – reviewed in NI 427 – is a passionate attempt to imagine Cambodian pop in the 21st century) and Sublime Frequencies, the Seattle-based label which has done sterling work in conserving traditional and popular Cambodian music. The regime failed, in the way that attempts at total erasure can only fail, but huge damage has been done – and so back to Neak Ta.
Led by the British-based Incidental, an organization focusing on community arts and new technology, Neak Ta is the brainchild of David Gunn, a sound artist and producer with a track record in the participatory arts. (Check out Folksongs for the Five Points, a web-based project that he and the Portuguese-Angolan musician Victor Gama made for New York’s Tenement Museum.) Working with Cambodian partners, Neak Ta consists of six weeks of workshops, concerts, events and mentoring young Cambodian artists to explore the meeting points between their traditional music and instrumentation and contemporary electronic works. At the end, there will be a concert.
But before any of this happens, Neak Ta needs another US$1,200.
Please visit the following sites for information on how to donate: