“Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia,” a symphonic work by composer Him Sophy and the first major such piece to address the Khmer Rouge genocide in the country, recently was released on Entertain Impact label.
Sophy, himself a Khmer Rouge survivor, places the musical ritual of a Bangsokol – a traditional Khmer ceremony that accompanies Cambodian Buddhist funeral rites – within the form of a Western requiem.
“When I composed the requiem,” Sophy says, “I relived the feelings I had during the Khmer Rouge times. It was Hell on Earth. The requiem needs to be experienced around the world so that everyone understands that tragedy is a shared experience.”
According to the announcement, as an act of cultural renewal, “Bangsokol” speaks to the role of the arts as a means for healing and reconciliation and seeks to inspire a new generation of artistic expression.
Sophy worked in collaboration with librettist Trent Walker, and the work was recorded at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York with the Metropolis Ensemble and the Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir, with Metropolis Ensemble Artistic Director Andrew Cyr conducting. It was premiered in 2017 at BAM in New York and other cultural institutions around the world, as a multi-disciplinary stage production combining music, film, movement, and voice; Rithy Panh, also a survivor of the genocide, provided the visuals.
The act of “Bangsokol” within the Buddhist funeral ritual represents the removal of a cloth, which signifies transmigration into the next life, where spirits of the dead find rest and ultimate rebirth. This piece mourns the nearly 2 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge, many of whom went missing during the genocide and whose bodies were never found.
“Bangsokol shows the resilience of Cambodian people,” adds Phloeun Prim, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, which originally commissioned the work. “That artistry remains alive despite genocide and an attempt to eradicate our culture. Today, we still see conflict in the world and during the pandemic, many people have passed away on their own, without a proper burial. This piece conveys a deep message of remembrance for those who have passed.”
“This album stands on its own as an extraordinary musical experience that brings cultures and people together while serving as a model for how art can be a powerful vehicle for reconciliation in post-conflict societies,” says Entertain Impact CEO Paul Katz. “Our agency utilizes popular culture for social change. So, working with Him Sophy and Phloeun Prim of Cambodian Living Arts, the commissioning organization, to release an album of such importance feels particularly relevant in today’s world where conflict is rampant.”