“Bangsokol is a vital act of memory. It is an attempt to give dignity to the dead; to reconcile with our own past; to give a face and a name to the victims, to give their souls peace.” – Rithy PANH

Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia is an extraordinary new composition fusing music, voice, movement, and visuals. It is the first major symphonic work that addresses the traumas of the late 1970s in Cambodia, and the first collaboration between contemporaries Rithy PANH and HIM Sophy, both survivors of the Khmer Rouge and now at the forefront of Cambodia’s cultural renaissance.

Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia incorporates the form of the Western requiem, contextualizing it in Khmer culture with bangsokol, a ceremony that accompanies Cambodian funeral rites. This word references both the white cloth placed over the deceased during a Buddhist funeral and the ritual surrounding the removal of the cloth. It is this act that signifies transmigration into the next life: the ritual through which the spirits of the dead find rest.

Composer HIM Sophy’s score combines traditional Khmer instrumentalists and smot chanting – a form that, like the issue at the heart of the work, is innately Cambodian but can be replicated for global audiences – with a Western chamber orchestra and chorus. Filmmaker and stage director Rithy PANH uses visual projections to stunning effect; a blend of archival footage, surreal and imagistic interpretations capture the very essence of Cambodia’s culture and history. The particular form of Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia is unprecedented; a synthesis of ritual, liturgy, and immersive performance that transcends pure artistic achievement, harnessing the universal healing power of culture and art for those who live in or have experienced conflict globally.

The requiem begins in the heavens, with celestial music and an invocation to the gods to listen to the “words of the sage” – the Buddha’s teachings. Moving down to Earth and witnessing a funeral in the Cambodian countryside, it is soon interrupted by traumatic memories of the Khmer Rouge and the appearance of ‘hungry ghosts’ wandering the lands in the second movement. In the third movement, we experience the acceptance of impermanence and the path to peace, as the bangsokol ceremony itself gives solace to the dead and helps the living to heal. Prologue and epilogue ornately frame this journey by recalling the presence of the wandering spirits and marking a sense of joy and hope for a peaceful future respectively.

The work itself, from conception to creation to presentation, is an act of cultural renewal; it aims to return the arts to their place at the heart of Cambodian society. While the world continues to witness new acts of genocide, war, and destruction, Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia urges us to remember the scars of the past so that we can learn how to forge a new path in the present. It will stand as a firm and visible memorial for peace honouring all victims of violent conflict and act as a medium for societal dialogue and advocating for peace education.

Cambodian Living Arts is proud to commission this unique piece as it encapsulates its nearly 20 years of work in the field of arts for transformation and healing. From the revival and transmission of cultural heritage, to nurturing cultural leadership and stimulating creativity, Bangsokol perfectly reflects the organisation’s mission.

Composer: Him Sophy

Music

“When I composed the requiem I relived the feelings I had during the Khmer Rouge times. It was hell on earth. It is important for the requiem to be shown around the world so that everyone can see that tragedy is a shared experience. There is hope in creation. I always tell people, ‘Remember, never forget. Protect the future from repeating the past.’”

Bangsokol will have a big impact. It is able to describe the past in Cambodia, all of it: war, killings, tragedy and reconciliation. As a composer I wish, and pray, that Cambodians are eager to live in peace and that the world will receive the humanitarian message of Bangsokol to save each other, stop destroying the earth, stop killing and see the hope in those things.”

Director, Designer, Filmmaker: Rithy Panh

Film

“Some have said that poetry after atrocity is not possible anymore, yet we need to have it. We must continue to create. We can’t start mourning without knowing how, and part of knowing how is to accept something very painful, something unexplainable. This art may bring us answers, help us accept our pain and loss. Yet, it is more than an act of remembrance, it’s an act of transmission and brings humanization. Something which the Khmer Rouge attempted to take away from us.”

“I would like for each victim to be able to speak to each member of the audience, for each history to be borne by each of us, as if it was a transmission. For the past to find a response through our presence of today. Imagine that each member of the audience is holding in the palm of their hands a Cambodian’s face, who is asking questions about what could have been their life, their fight, their pain, their happiness; an image they could love, cherish.”

“Imagine that grieve has been overcome thanks to arts, cinema, music. Imagine that life is also possible after the disaster, that poetry is possible, that imagination is still alive. Also imagine the life recovered, as easy as rain, as a rice field, as a landscape without end; imagine the night with its stars and each star as a soul who greets you.”