Part II: Mainland Southeast Asia

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Part II: Mainland Southeast Asia

  • Introduction to the Musics of Mainland Southeast Asia

Nation-states do not necessarily define human cultural groups

  • nation-states are complicated by linguistic and ethnic pluralism

  • no one type of music is Thai, or Burmese, or Lao

  • terms like Thai, Burmese, and Lao denote majority cultures

Each Southeast Asian nation looks clearly defined, but is complex

  • each has cultural regions, minority ethnic groups, and historical strata

  • provinces and even neighboring villages can differ markedly

Knowledge of the mainland by researchers is not uniform

  • Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have been ‘open’ to researchers

  • Burma, in contrast, was closed to outsiders until the 1990s

  • parts of Cambodia and Laos are still either off limits or difficult to visit

Questions for Discussion

  • How does this description of the mainland differ from the general region?

  • What is the relationship between a nation-state and an ethnic group?

  • Does being part of an ethnic group mean being unified as a people?

  • The Khmer People of Cambodia

Khmer denotes the majority ethnic group in the Kingdom of Cambodia

  • The nation was called Kampuchea, but the term is now avoided

  • Cambodia’s boundaries were created during colonialism

  • many lowland Khmer live in Thailand and Vietnam

  • many upland Khmer live in Laos and Vietnam

The nation

  • most of Cambodia is flat, except for mountains on the borders

  • extensive forests and plains with wet-rice cultivation

  • Two major rivers: the Mekong and the Tonle Sap

  • estimated population of almost 14 million people

  • 90% of the population is ethnically Khmer

The culture

  • Many aspects of culture were transmitted from India

  • temples of Angkor include bas-reliefs of cultural elements, including music

  • Buddhism became the dominant religion in Cambodia by the 13th century

War and colonialism

  • The Siamese Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayuthaya warred frequently with the Khmer

  • the Tai carried off 90,000 prisoners, including musicians and dancers

  • Khmer people were bereft of their cultural treasures

War and colonialism (cont.)

  • Cambodia asked for France’s protection against Siamese and Vietnamese aggression, and became a French protectorate in 1864

  • Cambodia became part of the Indochinese Union

Independence and chaos

  • King Norodom Sihanouk proclaimed independence in 1949

  • Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol in 1970, who established the Khmer Republic

Independence and chaos (cont.)

  • 1975-1979: Cambodia led into destruction by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, including the killing of many traditional performing artists

  • 1992: Paris Peace Accord restored Sihanouk to power as king; his son now reigns

Music in Cambodia

  • Khmer civilization reached its peak from the 9th to the 15th centuries

  • the temple at Angkor reveals musical instruments and their contexts

Music in Cambodia (cont.)

  • 15th century conflicts with the Siamese led to a decline in Khmer musical culture Khmer music revived by the 18th century

  • In the 20th century, conservation, preservation and revival

Khmer musical instruments

  • three divisions:

    • percussion
    • stringed
    • wind instruments
  • two functions:

    • religious
    • secular

Khmer musical instruments (cont.)

  • other classifications include:

    • physical materials
    • role (leader, follower)
    • musical style
    • ensemble context
    • controlling action
    • size
    • status (court, folk)
    • system of beliefs

Khmer musical instruments (cont.)

  • Materials

    • Clay
    • hide
    • Bamboo
    • Gourd


  • concussion idiophones (chhap, krapp)

  • struck idiophones

    • xylophones (roneat ek, roneat thung/thomm, roneat dak)
    • gongs (korng, korng vung tauch, korng vung thomm, korng mong, khmuoh)
    • plucked idiophones (angkuoch)

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