Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, January 17, 2009 | 1:28 PM
Ros Sereysothea (1946 - 1977?) was a Cambodian singer-songwriter in the 1960s and '70s. She was part of a thriving pop music scene in Cambodia, music that was influenced by rhythm and blues and rock and roll. She was a frequent singing partner with Sinn Sisamouth, Cambodia's top male singer of the era. She is thought to have died while imprisoned in a labor camp under the Khmer Rouge regime.
Born Ros Sothea in Battambang Province circa 1946, her family was poor and made a living by performing Khmer traditional music. Singing duets with her brother, Serey, the Serey-Sothea pair became quite well known and went to the capital Phnom Penh, where they found work performing in clubs. With her bell-like singing voice and diva-like qualities, Ros eclipsed her brother and became a solo artist, changing her name to Ros Sereysothea.
Her high, clear voice, coupled with the rock backing bands featuring prominent, distortion-laden lead guitars, pumping organ and loud, driving drums, made for an intense, sometimes haunting sound that is best described today as psychedelic or garage rock.
And like the leader of the music scene, Sinn Sisamouth, Sothea would often take popular Western rock tunes, such as John Fogerty's "Proud Mary" for example, and refashion them with Khmer lyrics.
She was honored by King Norodom Sihanouk with the royal title, "Preah Rheich Teany Somlang Meas", the "Golden Voice of the Royal Capital."
Her career was cut short with the takeover by the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. Forced out of Phnom Penh with all the other residents, she lived at a worksite in Kampong Speu. When her identity was learned by Khmer Rouge leaders, she was made to write and perform songs celebrating the regime. When she wasn't singing, she was required to work at digging irrigation ditches like everyone else in the camp.
She was forced by Pol Pot to marry one of his assistants in 1977. She disappeared under typically mysterious circumstances during the brutal regime of the Killing Fields and is almost certainly dead. Most believe that she died from being overworked in a Khmer Rouge agricultural camp, although it has also been reported that she either died of malnutrition in a hospital in Phnom Pehnh during the last weeks of the Khmer Rouge regime or that she had a fight with her Khmer Rouge husband and was sent away, never to be seen again.