New Album Blends Western, Khmer Sounds

The music in the album “Asian Flow,” which was released Thursday in Cambodia, can only be described as mesmerizing.

From the very first notes, the beautiful voice of Ouch Savy singing to Ingolv Haaland’s music transports you into a world of fluid melodies.

Traditional musician Yun Theara plays during a recording session with Norwegian composer Ingolv Haaland. (Jonas Bostrom)
Traditional musician Yun Theara plays during a recording session with Norwegian composer Ingolv Haaland. (Jonas Bostrom)

The songs link into a symphony—its roots classic but contemporary with a touch of jazz—played by instruments ranging from piano and violin, to guitar and drums joined by Cambodian musician Yun Theara’s tro.

The album was conceived by Mr. Haaland, a career pianist who started composing during the year he spent in Cambodia in 2006. Since returning home to Norway, he has been coming here several times a year

When writing music, the 41-year-old composer said: “I don’t think genre specific or country specific—I try to see everything as part of a whole.”

Mr. Haaland said rather than writing Western music that integrates Khmer traditional instruments, he tries to see the elements as independent.

“They have a voice of their own and I want that to shine. I want Theara to shine. Of course I write the melody but he interprets it and makes it his,” he said.

Listen to Ingolv Haaland’s Asian Flow

After asking master musician Yun Theara, a deputy director-general at the Ministry of Culture, to perform on his album, he auditioned for a Cambodian traditional singer.

“After the first recording session with Ouch Savy, I knew that we had something genuine,” he said. “She is a really great singer by any standard.”

The 27-year-old singer had trained in ayai and mohori traditional forms, and studied with chapei master Kong Nay.

Still, this album presented a challenge, Ms. Savy said.

“The music was different,” she said. “But as time went by, we began to better understand each other and it became easier and better…[Mr. Haaland] gave me the melodies and explained the music and stories behind them.”

Ms. Savy’s role went beyond singing, as Mr. Haaland asked her to adapt in Khmer the lyrics he had composed. “I gave her complete freedom with that,” he said. “I wrote the melody but I wanted her to make the music hers.”

She sings in Khmer but one does not need to understand Khmer to be taken by the beauty and strength of her voice.

“I did the translation but not word for word,” Ms. Savy said. “One song speaks of the past, and so I wrote the lyrics describing my own past.”

The booklet accompanying the CD contains the lyrics both in Khmer and English plus photos of the recording sessions, including the one with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra in Slovakia.

Ms. Savy will be singing “Asian Flow” with the Kristians and Symphony Orchestra in Norway next March.

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