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Monday, July 16, 2012

CHHUN Vanna, "Famous Khmer Singer from 1950s to Early 1970s"

Chhun Vanna

Chhun Vanna was a famous female Khmer singer since 1950s in the generation of So Savoeurn, Seang Dy, Mao Sareth, Chhuon Malai, Mom Marath, and Chuob Saroeun. According to her interview with AABC TV in California (USA), she is actually a Khmer Krom woman escaping with her mother from the control of Vietnam over Kampuchea Krom to live in Phnom Penh since she was a child  while her father died earlier. Her mother was an ancient lakhorn performer. Being so strict for daughter not to be able write love letter to man, her mother did not allow her to learn to write Khmer Language. Later her mother died, Chhun Vanna lived with her uncle, Meas Chorn, who was a famous boxing arbiter in Phnom Penh in that generation. Chhun Vanna started singing since she was ten years old with the songs like Or Kam Euy Kam, Oudom Duong Chet, etc. Being so interested in singing, she hid from her uncle about singing for Ministry of Broadcasting (Krosuong Khousana Kar) in which her uncle never contact her anymore. She said she sang for this ministry getting monthly salary. Her most beloved and very well-known songs were Oun Srolanh Tae Bong Muoy Nak, Boeung Ga Wan So Lo, Lea Heuy Reach Theany, etc. Later, she got to sing at Kbal Thnol bar in Phnom Penh with Sin Sisamut, but she never recorded any song album with him. Singing there for a while, she got married to the younger brother of that bar, Chin Sakhorn. Through their marriage until 1975, they gave birth to eight children. In Lon Nol Regime (Khmer Republic), she attended the You Thea Phirum 2 Group (Army Singing Group). Her singing career continued until the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. She told that she was separated from her husband while he and Sin Sisamut were called by king to sing for him. Living in Kbal Thnol area, she was evacuated from Phnom Penh to Svay Rieng Province with her eight children. To live in Pol Pot Regime, she hid her background to live as a simple citizen; she told Khmer Rouge officers that she was a street greengrocer. However, they already knew who she was and tortured her badly for three months to make her confess about her as Chhun Vanna; they broke all her teeth and so on. Being smart in hiding her background and not to confessed, she was released. In this regime, she also lost her five children because of the hunger as well as her husband's death was also told. In 1979, she was advised by her adopted younger sibling to flee the country with her son and 2 daughters to Cambodia-Thailand border and lived in Khao I Dang Camp over 1 years getting supports from the United Nations. She said living in Khao I Dang, some Cambodian women were raped by Thai soldiers and they did a lot of troubles to Cambodian there. To her without any knowledge about literature, singing was the only way to earn for living with her 3 children; Cambodian citizens in Khao I Dang were so helpful to her. She changed her name to Vanna Sen. Her son's name is Sen Sithon; and her daughters are Sen Sitha and Sen Theary. In 1981, Mr. Kang guaranteed to take her to the United States with purpose to marry her, but she refused since she was already old and considered him as brother. Arriving in Seattle City, Washington State, she was so miserable to live there with cold weather and English illiteracy. The weather was very cold while she and her children has never experienced such weather in Cambodia. She did not know how to turn on the heater in the house until Khmer neighbors coming to her house. Being not adaptive to the cold weather in Seattle, her family moved to Stockton City, California State. Embarrassing experience to not know English, she wanted to say "sorry" while she took her leg on other on the bus; she confused to say "Kiss Me" that made American to look at her like she was crazy. Also, when the church came to provide housewares to her family, she said "Yes" for all help, except bed that she confused to say "No". The church took back the bed, so she tried to stop them for why. However, her neighbor said "You said "No", so they took it back". Therefore, her family lived there without bed for nearly 1 year. After that, Narin, a kind person, took her children to school. Being still love singing, she rode a bus from Stockton to Oregon to sing a song at IN Tyly's place since he had his own studio. Since then, she became the first Khmer singer to record the old and new songs again in early 1980s in the United States. Those songs are Khao I Dang Duong Chet, Som Bong Kor Puk Moat Tov, Borey Chulong, etc. Additionally, she knew some of her generation colleagues alive after Pol Pot Regime include Chhuon Malai, Seang Dy, and So Savoeun. Until now, she still sings to entertain people in Stockton. Unfortunately, her health is not good as before since she got stomach ache, diabetes, and hypertension. "Life is not stable, let's enjoy what you really like!" 

By: POK Panhavuth

Chhun Vanna's Interview by AABC TV

Chhun Vanna Songs Before 1975

Chhun Vanna After Pol Pot Regime (Old Songs with New Recordinng and New Songs)