Sinn Sisamouth, First Famous Singer in Cambodia


Sinn Sisamouth is the first and the most famous Cambodian singer.  He is a singer and composer, he has a great influence, and has touched more hearts, than any other singer in the country's history. Though he was tragically taken from this world, his soul, spirit, and emotions are echoed in the legacy of songs he had bequeathed to us, and for this reason, his life is eternal.


Sinn Sisamouth was born in 1935, the year of the Rooster, in Stung Treng Province, Cambodia.  He was the youngest son of a proud father, Sinn Leang, and mother, Seb Bunlei, a woman of Lao-Chinese ancestry.  Sisamouth was now the youngest of their four children, joining a brother and two sisters.

Sinn Sisamouth was a kind boy, full of emotion and sympathy for others, and it is said that he gravitated towards people with soft and sweet voices.  Reticent in nature, he visited the local temple and talked with the monks in his spare time.  From these monks, he learned Phalli and became well acquainted with Buddhist scripture.  He also enjoyed reading books, playing soccer and flying kites.

His father, Sinn Leang, worked as the head of a prison in Battambong Province.  Later he would became a soldier during the revolution against the French, when Sisamouth was about six or seven years old.  At this point, a young Sisamouth was already enrolled in school - he had begun to attend the Central Province of Stung Treng Elementary School at the age of five.   When Sisamouth was six or seven years old, about the same time that his father had joined the fight against the French, the boy developed an interest in music, and he started learning to play the guitar.

Academically, Sinn Sisamouth was a good student who was well liked by both teachers and classmates. His musical talents started to bud while he was in school, and often he would be asked to perform at school functions.  By the time he was fifteen or sixteen, he had completed primary school and received his "Certificat D'etude Primaire".  At this time, he had an option of either joining the work force or pursuing further education to strengthen his skills.  He decided he wanted to study for a career in medicine, and he moved to Phnom Penh for that purpose in 1950-51.

(At some point during Sisamouth's childhood, his father became ill and passed away.  Later, his mother would remarry, and have two more children with her new husband.)

During his years in medical school, Sinn Sisamouth resided with his uncle in Phnom Penh. The decision to join this profession was his alone, and was not at all due to any pressure from his family.  Needless to say, his parents were very much supportive of their son's choice.


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Despite the rigorous demands of medical school, Sinn Sisamouth still managed to find time to work on his singing and song-writing.  During these years, he rarely went out because the money that he received from his parents was just enough to cover his school expenses.  Therefore, he spent most of his free time studying music and working on his singing.  With the support of friends with similar skills and interests, he soon become well-known within the school as a poetic young man with great musical skills and singing talent.

As his reputation grew across the capital, Sisamouth began to sing semi-professionally, sometimes performing live on the radio and sometimes singing at weddings and other ceremonies.  Unfortunately, when his family heard his voice over the radio, they were not happy.  They wanted Sisamouth to be a doctor, and they were worried that his music would conflict with his studies.  But it was Sisamouth's destiny to be a singer, and he continued despite his family's disapproval.

In Phnom Penh, word was spreading about this young talent.  When Cambodia received its independence from France in 1953, the new Cambodian National Radio Station asked Sisamouth to join the station as a featured singer.  Meanwhile, he continued to study medicine in the Pheah Ketokmala hospital.

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