By Emily Martin
Meet the stars- Ngam Rattanak
28 year old Ngam Rattanak is one of the talented musicians playing for Phare. He’s currently in France, touring with the Eclipse troupe – the furthest he’s ever been from Cambodia. I managed to catch him before he left and find out more about the man behind the smile, passion and skills.
How long have you been playing music?
I’ve been playing music for 10 years now. I learnt in the pagoda and I studied there for one year and a half. Then I started playing for ceremonies, weddings and festivals.
Why did you start to learn?
I love it so much! I saw my friend who was learning to play music and I was interested to try as well. I went home and asked my mum if I could learn and she said yes so I started.
What is your favourite instrument?
I like bass and piano. My teacher sent me some jazz music to listen to and I really like it. Jazz and rock! It’s very strong.
Has there been anyone that’s inspired you for your music?
My music teacher Vanthan. He can play all the instruments – he can pick up any instrument which he hasn’t played before and he’ll just play it! He’s very, very good.
When I see the very good musicians I always look at him and I follow him and his style and try and do the same. I try every day. Well some days when I am tired I have a sleep and relax but after I have energy again I will try, try, try again.
What was your home life like growing up?
My mother is a teacher and when I was just 1 years old my father passed away. There’s 8 of us children including me so my mother was very poor. It’s a bit better now because as we grow older we can help earn more money for ourselves. When I was younger we were very, very poor.
What is finding work like for a musician?
It’s hard sometimes. But the circus is really good because they help give you more security. They helped me study at the music school in Siem Reap and they give me a salary which is good for me.
What other opportunities does Phare give you?
I can go abroad! I went to Singapore before and I will go to France this month. Travelling makes me very happy. Singapore is a very beautiful country and when I go abroad I am very happy and proud of myself.
What do you expect France will be like?
I’m a little bit nervous and I only have a small knowledge about their culture. I think I will be amazed though and I am looking forward to meeting a lot of people and playing for them. When I play in Cambodia they have 200 audience but I expect in France they will have thousand or more! I am very nervous about that but I will try my best.
My friend has already told me about the weather in France – It’s very, very cold.
In France I think it will be better than Cambodia. Why? Because the I met the French people in Cambodia they have a higher knowledge than the Khmer people. The French have everything, they have high knowledge.
I’m also worried about the food. The taste in Cambodia and the taste in France is very different. When I will eat their food it will be very sad for me. It won’t be spicy and it’s only small. No rice… only bread.
Do you get stage fright?
The first show in Phare the Cambodian Circus – oh I was so nervous. The first and second and third still and after a week I was better and ok. Now I am never scared, but I expect in France I will be very nervous again.
What do you do to help calm yourself?
I just make myself feel happy. I look for the audience and I see how happy they are it makes me happy. So I change my mind and am not nervous. I feed off them.
For me modern music is really challenging. I have studied a lot about the traditional Khmer music and now I want to develop my skill into the modern music. But at the moment I can’t really play it well. Just a little bit.
I know the Khmer traditional music since a long time ago. I grew up with it. But now I am learning modern, it’s so difficult especially drum and piano.
But I try to learn from YouTube. Like I find a song that I like and I listen on YouTube and then I try to play it on the piano. It’s very hard but now I can play piano one song and a half.
I like modern music.
What drives you?
In my mind when I hear something that I like, I want to learn. When I love it I hear wow that song is good. I must learn. It is my thinking…my inner voice.
What is your dream for the future?
I want to be a professional musician. I want to play the modern music. I want a change. Before I can play traditional music well but now I want to play modern music. I want to change my mind. I don’t want same, same.
Read more about Rattanak’s music teacher Vanthan Ly.
Want to know more about the show Eclipse?
If you’re in France this winter, check out the Eclipse tour schedule.