While Cambodia has the usual mix of entertainment you see in many Southeast Asian countries, it is also undergoing a huge cultural revival – with a twist. Its first rock opera premiered in Phnom Penh in November 2008, a milestone in a country where performing arts were completely banned during the Khmer Rouge years. However, what is unusual about this is that “Where Elephants Weep” is a Broadway-style musical blending traditional Cambodian music and instruments with hip-hop and rock and a multi-national ensemble.
Exciting Changes Ahead
It is a symbol of a healing in a country that needs it desperately and the producers hope to stir the young Khmers to take pride in their cultural heritage and yet be part of a changing, global society. Although this was only a one-week run, it was a sold out performance and may be a precursor to a changing landscape in Cambodian entertainment. Clearly, exciting things will happen in Cambodia over the coming years, but in the meantime, the urban centers offer nightclubs, karaoke bars, pubs, hotel lobby bands and casinos in Poipet. Live music is pretty limited compared to other Asian capitals, but a few art cafes and bistros offer jazz performances.
There is a revival of the cinema scene in Phnom Penh following an appeal to reopen historic cinemas by the former King Sihanouk, who was himself a film-maker and keen movie fan. Cambodian cinemas run only low-budget Khmer movies but screenings in French and English are held in lakeside guesthouses and restaurants in Phnom Penh and the French Cultural Center. There is also a fledgling Cambodian film festival, an indie event now in its second year.
For a taste of the traditional, restaurants and hotels offer cultural performances which is the only way tourists can get to enjoy the Khmer aspara dancing. although in Phnom Penh, there are performances by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.