Sunday, February 17, 2008

More from Dey Krahom

The dark and dank corridors of the Bassac's White Building
The rubbish-strewn backside of the White Building
Here's a few more pictures from my Saturday morning visit to the Bassac and Dey Krahom area of Phnom Penh. In the 1980s the Cambodian government made a concerted effort to lure all surviving musicians back to Phnom Penh, and many artists joined scores of other returnees in setting up makeshift homes in Dey Krahom (it means Red Soil), very close to the Bassac theatre. Growing to 5,000 people by 1994, the shantytown community occupied a central strip of land between celebrated architect Van Molyvan's dilapidated White Building, erected in 1964 to house municipal staff (and now housing the rehearsal room for CLA students), and his Grey Building, once fancy apartments but now completely altered and home to Build Bright University and others. The settlement at Dey Krahom grew to around 12,000 people a decade later, of which at least 300 were artists. Whilst many residents eke out a living selling garbage or groceries or scouring the waterfront for work, the unsanitary conditions in which they live - surrounded by the stench of open sewers and uncollected rubbish - make it an area ripe for redevelopment and that's exactly what is happening. Many families have already been forced out, to land many kilometres from the city, while the others are holding out for higher recompense for their land but could face forced eviction at any moment. This dislocation has affected the strong artist community that existed though people like blind chapei master Kong Nai, quickly developing a worldwide reputation as the Ray Charles of Cambodia, still live in the slum and continues to pass on his skills to the artists of the future, like his near neighbour Och Savy, with whom he toured England last year. The outlook for Dey Krahom is uncertain but the seeds have been sown by Cambodian Living Arts and the music masters of yesteryear, to ensure the next generation carry forward the performance skills and culture that will enrich Cambodia's future.

An ariel view of part of Dey Krahom and the University buildings behind it - many of the plots have already been emptied and cleared

Another view of Dey Krahom and the Bassac's White Building

The simple home of chapei master musician, Kong Nai


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