Remembering Channthy

Scott Bywater

Kak Channthy performing in Phnom Penh, 10 February. Photo: Steve Porte

I heard the news of the fatal traffic accident an hour before dawn. A friend came and sat with me outside a 24-hour mini-mart as the sun came up. I stared at my computer screen all day, unable to look away from her. In the afternoon, still without sleep, I rode my bicycle to Garage Bar on Street 110, in Phnom Penh, where we had played just over a week before, on the eve of International Women’s Day. Sitting in the empty bar was a long-time fan who had never seen her perform live so he came early to that gig, hoping to get the best seat. We embraced.

Kak Channthy and I met in December 2009. Then, she was a shy woman on the cusp of thirty who was working as a singer in a Khmer beer garden. Thy, as she was known, grew up in the poor, subsistence rice-farming province of Prey Veng, on the east bank of the Mekong River, and she dreamed of a life of song like her idol Pan Ron. A mutual friend, Julien Poulson, had heard her sing and cooked up the idea of the Cambodian Space Project, performing Cambodian music of the 1960s in a contemporary setting. The poor man’s Dengue Fever, it was suggested. I was lucky enough to be asked to join.

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