“Music is the soul of a nation,” says Sam-Ang Sam.
Sam is one of the few surviving musicians interviewed in John Pirozzi’s 2014 film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. The documentary uncovers Cambodia’s emerging rock and roll scene during the 60s and early 70s, prior to the Khmer Rouge’s takeover in 1975. Mixing Western influences with their own traditional spin, Cambodian musicians like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea acquired a large fan following in the country.
Despite their popularity with the people, Sisamouth and Sothea, along with other musicians, were systematically targeted by the Khmer Rouge. Seeking to eliminate all traces of Western influence and modernity, the Khmer Rouge were ruthless. During their 4-year regime an estimated two million Cambodians died — nearly a fourth of the nation’s population — including popular artists and intellectuals.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten showcases rare vinyl recordings and performances along with war footage and historian commentary. At times, these components are layered, creating an eerie effect. Together, they tell the story of how a regime sought to silence a nation. The result is both vibrant and somber; a celebration and a memorial.
The film’s title comes from a popular song by Sisamouth. Today, Sisamouth and Sothea are considered cultural icons. Their music can still be heard on Cambodian radio stations, long after their deaths during the regime.
“Her voice is still here, even though she’s gone,” says Sothea’s sister.