Ros Serey Sothea

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Ros Serey Sothea
Sothea in the 1960s
Sothea in the 1960s
Background information
Birth nameRos Sothea
Bornc. 1948
Battambang province, French protectorate of Cambodia
OriginBattambang, Cambodia
Diedc. 1977 (aged 28–29)
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1967–1975

Ros Serey Sothea (Khmer: រស់ សេរីសុទ្ធា/រស់ សិរីសុទ្ធា [ruəh serəjsotʰiə]; c. 1948 – c. 1977) was a Cambodian singer. She was active during the final years of the First Kingdom of Cambodia and into the Khmer Republic period. She sang in a variety of genres; romantic ballads emerged as her most popular works. Despite a relatively brief career she is credited with singing hundreds of songs. She also ventured into acting, starring in a few films. Details of her life are relatively scarce. She disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s but the circumstances of her fate remain a mystery. Norodom Sihanouk granted Sothea the honorary title "Queen with the Golden Voice."[1]


Early life[edit]

Ros Sothea was born in circa 1948 to Ros Bun (Khmer: រស់ ប៊ុន) and Nath Samien (Khmer: ណាត់ សាមៀន) in Battambang province, French protectorate of Cambodia.[2] Growing up relatively poor on a farm, Ros Sothea was the second youngest of five children; her older sister Ros Saboeut later became known as an activist.[1] She displayed vocal talent as a toddler and grew up listening to early Cambodian pop singers like Mao Sareth and Chhoun Malay. Sothea's talent would remain relatively hidden until friends persuaded her to join a regional singing contest in 1963. After winning the contest she became widely known in her home province and was invited to join a musical troupe that regularly performed at Stung Khiev restaurant in Battambang; she also performed in a family band with her brother Serey.[3] It is believed that Im Song Seurm, a singer from the National Radio service, heard of Sothea's talents and invited her to Phnom Penh in 1967.[4]

Music career[edit]

Ros Serey Sothea

In Phnom Penh, she adopted the alias Ros Serey Sothea and became a singer for the National Radio service, first performing duets with Im Song Seurm. Her first hit, "Stung Khieu (Blue River)" appeared in 1967 and she quickly became popular across Cambodia, particularly for her high and clear voice.[3] Eventually she became a regular partner with Sinn Sisamouth, the era's leading singer, resulting in many popular duet recordings.[2] She also collaborated with other prominent singers of the era like Pen Ran, Huoy Meas, and Sos Mat, while maintaining an active solo career as well.

Sothea's early recordings were largely traditional Cambodian ballads. She would eventually adopt a more contemporary style incorporating French and American influences, adding western pop/rock instrumentation, as was common in Cambodian music starting in the late 1960s.[2] Eventually Sothea and her contemporaries were strongly influenced by American radio that had been transmitted to U.S. troops in nearby South Vietnam, inspiring experimentation with American/British rock and soul sounds.[5][6] Sothea combined her high and clear voice with backing provided by young rock musicians, characterized by prominent electric guitars, drums, and Farfisa organs. This resulted in a sound that is often described as psychedelic or garage rock,[7] and Sothea became the leading female singer in the thriving Cambodian rock scene.[2][8][9] Sothea was also one of many singers in that scene to create new versions of popular western rock songs with Khmer lyrics, such as "Cry Loving Me" (based on "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival) and "Wolly Polly" (based on "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham).

Romantic ballads would remain her most endearing work amongst the more conservative populace.[2] She was often sought out by film directors to perform songs in their movies.[2][10] Sothea's collaboration with the Cambodian film industry is invaluable in identifying over 250 films lost during the Khmer Rouge regime.[citation needed] Sothea never sang under any one record label and made a modest living as a musician. She was recognized as a national treasure and was honored by Head of State Norodom Sihanouk with the royal title of Preah Reich Theany Somlang Meas, the "Queen with the Golden Voice" (sometimes translated as "Golden Voice of the Royal Capital").[1] During the Cambodian Civil War in the early 1970s, Sothea became involved in the Khmer Republic military[11] and recorded patriotic songs supporting the Republic's stance against the Khmer Rouge insurgents. Her career would continue until the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Little information about Ros Serey Sothea's personal life has survived, though her personality has been described as modest and reserved. She is known to have been involved in a few high-profile relationships. As documented in the film Don't Think I've Forgotten, when she arrived in Phnom Penh she was courted by fellow singer Sos Mat and they eventually married. As Sothea's career moved forward, Sos Mat became jealous of her success and of the men who came to watch her perform, culminating in physical abuse.[5] Sothea fled the marriage within six months and obtained a divorce. Believing that her career would be ruined by the stigma of divorce, Sothea went back to her family in Battambang but was convinced by Sinn Sisamouth to return to Phnom Penh and resume her career.[13]

Sothea's popularity rebounded and she met a prominent member of a film-making family while recording film songs. This relationship led to marriage and the birth of a son, but for undocumented reasons the marriage was short-lived.[better source needed] The film Don't Think I've Forgotten also reports that Sothea had a relationship with an officer in the Khmer Republic army and learned to be a paratrooper during the Cambodian Civil War, though her boyfriend is believed to have been killed in combat.[3] This relationship increased her participation with the military; a film of Sothea parachuting out of a plane during a paratrooper exercise is the only known video footage of her to have survived.[11] Fans believe that Sothea's unhappy relationships were a primary influence on her singing style and lyrics, indicated by song titles (in translation) like "Don't Be Mad," "Brokenhearted Woman," and "Wicked Husband."

Disappearance and death[edit]

Ros Serey Sothea disappeared during the Khmer Rouge genocide and her exact fate has never been confirmed, with multiple sources making contradictory claims. For example, her sisters have alleged that Sothea is likely to have died immediately after the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia in April 1975; as a famous entertainer with "western" influences, qualities widely known to be disdained by the Khmer Rouge, she would have been targeted for imprisonment or execution immediately. Her whereabouts at the time are also uncertain, with some sources claiming that she had traveled to Pailin Province for the 1975 Buddhist New Year, as the lyrics of her final recordings are on that topic, although others are skeptical of this claim because of the dangers of traveling in Cambodia during that period. She may have also been in Phnom Penh at the time and was forced to evacuate like all other residents, and some sources also claim that the outgoing government made efforts to get her out of the country.[12]

Further sources claim that Sothea, like most city dwellers, was relocated to the Cambodian countryside for farm work; having grown up on a farm she was able to adjust to the work and hide her identity for a time. According to this story, she was eventually discovered, after which she was forced by Pol Pot to marry one of his officers and perform regularly for the party leadership. This story contends that her marriage to the officer was abusive and the party leadership determined that her presence was too controversial, so she was allegedly led away and executed in 1977.[3]

Yet more sources claim that Sothea died from overwork in a Khmer Rouge agricultural camp, or that she survived until the Vietnamese invasion of late 1978/early 1979 but soon died in a hospital from malnutrition.[2] Whatever the cause, Sothea almost certainly died during the Khmer Rouge regime but her remains have never been discovered.


A Ros Serey Sothea record cover from the early 1970s

Many of Ros Serey Sothea's master recordings were either destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime in its efforts to eliminate foreign influences from Cambodian society,[12] or deteriorated rapidly in the tropical environment. However, many vinyl records have survived and have been reissued on cassette or compact disc.[14] Many of the reissued recordings contained overdubs of drum machines and keyboards, and were sometimes sped up.[citation needed] Thus, the original recordings by Sothea and her contemporaries are highly sought by collectors and preservationists.

Sothea's older sister Ros Saboeut is widely credited with reuniting Cambodia's surviving musicians and bands in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era.[1] Surviving musicians had initially contacted Ros Saboeut to inquire about Sothea's fate;[1] Saboeut used the opportunity to reunite the survivors.[1] According to Youk Chhang, the executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Ros Saboeut sought to restore Cambodian music as a tribute to her sister, saying "I think she was bound by the legacy of her sister to help."[1] Her efforts were widely credited with rebuilding the country's rock genre.[1]

Ros Serey Sothea has remained extremely popular posthumously in Cambodia and Cambodian communities scattered throughout the United States, France, Australia, and Canada.[14] Western listeners were introduced to her work starting in the late 1990s with the release of the Cambodian Rocks bootleg album, followed by the soundtrack to the film City of Ghosts. The Los Angeles band Dengue Fever, featuring Cambodian lead singer Chhom Nimol, covers a number of songs by Sothea and her contemporaries in the Cambodian rock scene, as does the band Cambodian Space Project. Sothea was the subject of the 2006 short film The Golden Voice, in which she is played by actress Sophea Pel.[15] Ros Serey Sothea is also profiled extensively in the 2015 documentary film Don't Think I've Forgotten, in which several interview subjects describe her as one of the most important singers in the history of Cambodian popular music.[5]

Partial discography[edit]


  • "Chnam Oun Dap Pram Muoy" (I'm 16)
  • "Cry Loving Me"
  • "Kom Kung Twer Evey" (Don't Be Mad)
  • "Hair Cut, Hair Cut"
  • "Have You Seen My Love"
  • "I'm So Shy"
  • "Phey! Phey!" (Scared! Scared!)
  • "Since When You Knew Me"
  • "Wait Ten Months" (Jam 10 Kai Theit / "Wait 10 Months More")
  • "Wicked Husband"
  • "Mdech Ka Dar tam Khnhom?" (Why Do You Follow Me?)
  • "Khlin Joep Nersa" (The Fragrant That Lasts With Me)
  • "Rom Woolly Bully"
  • "Bong Srolanh Oun Ponman Dae" (Tell Me How Much You Love Me)
  • "Po Preuk Po Lngeach"
  • "Penh Chet Tae Bong Muoy" (A Go Go)
  • "Komlos Sey Chaom" (Love God)
  • Jas Bong Ju Am
  • Penh Chet Tae Bong Mouy (I Love Only You)


  • "Kaduk Dol Heuy"
  • "Komping Puoy"
  • "Rolum Saen Kraw"
  • "Sarika Keo Kauch"
  • "Tha Cho Chok"
  • "Or! Champey Euy"
  • "Leour So Skol Thoun"
  • "Kae Rognea Heuy Me"
  • "Pkah Lmeath"
  • "Chong Ban Chea Kou Veasna"


  • "Sra Muy Keo" (One Shot)


  • "Kaun Komsott"
  • "Bopha Akasajal"
  • "Jomno Pailin"
  • "Kom Plich Oun Na"
  • "New Year's Eve"
  • "Pink Night"
  • "Pga Reige Leu Maik"
  • "Pruos Reing Awej?"
  • "Lort sene duong chan"
  • "Chross O'yadao"
  • "Somnerng Bopha prey phnom" (Songs of the jungle girl)
  • "Sralmall sene khyum" (Shadow of my love)
  • "Chmreing sene khyum" (Story of my love)
  • "Alay bong cher net" (Always misses you)
  • "Teurk hoe teu" (River flow)
  • "Bong ban sonyah" (You've promise)
  • "Soum ros khbere bong"
  • "Oun soum angvor" (I beg of you)
  • "Oun neul tharl rong jum" (I will still wait)
  • "Bomplej men ban" (Can't forget)
  • "Oun smak bong smoss"
  • "Oun sralnane bong nas" (I love you so much)
  • "San nuk alay"
  • "Men guor sralane bong" (I shouldn't love you)
  • "Chup sralane men ban" (Can't stop loving you)
  • "Jum neu tharl jum"
  • "Oun jum bong cher neth"
  • "Phnom Kong'rei" (Phnom Kong Rei)
  • "Pros bondoll chiet"
  • "Kum keng oun na bong"
  • "Rom cha cha cha"
  • "Jum loss sone"
  • "Bong tver oy oun yum" (You made me cry)
  • "Yume samrap thngay nis"
  • "Sall anosaovary"
  • "Leng knhom tv" (Let me go)
  • "Bondam stung keiv"
  • "Reastrei buth sene" (Missing lover of the night)
  • "Pkah orchid"
  • "Auh! seneha khnom"
  • "Verjah boross" (The word of men)
  • "Popol gomah"
  • "Prot svamei"
  • "Oun soum phneu chheung"
  • "San klotpsa"
  • "Chhba mon reing khyum"
  • "Norok lokei" (The sin of man)
  • "Ahso kasalmerlerr"
  • "Rolok songka therm svamei"
  • "Thmnorng leakina"
  • "Thgnay lett oun sralnoss" (When sunset, I miss u)
  • "Tropeang Peay"
  • "San chok chem"
  • "Pathchere sralnoss"
  • "Konseng nisei"
  • "Machass sne oun"
  • "Jomreang avasan"
  • Konsaeng Krohom" (Red Scarf)
  • Bros Del K'bot Chet" (Man who betrays)
  • Veal Srae Sronos"

Duets with Sinn Sisamouth[edit]

  • "Ae Na Promajarey"
  • "Bong Ban Khernh Sre"
  • "Bos Choong"
  • "Chom Chait Pesaey"
  • "Chao Luoch Jet"
  • "Have a Caramel"
  • "Jang ban pka avey?" (What flower do you want?)
  • "Kay Tha Knyom Jass"
  • "Kamnap snaeha" (Love poem)
  • "Komnoch veyo"
  • "Pneik Kamhuoch"
  • "Niw Tae Srolanh"
  • "Oh! snaeha euy!" (Oh! Love...)
  • "Oun Rom Som Te?"
  • "Sranah Ou chrow"
  • "Soniya 3 Tngai" (A Promise for 3 Days)
  • "Tehsepheap Prolim"
  • "Tiev Euy Srey Tiev"
  • "Tmor Kol Sromol Snae"
  • "Tok Bong Om Skat"
  • "Yaop Yun Thun Trojeak"
  • "Yerng Kom Plich Khnea"

Duets with Other Artists[edit]

  • "Khmao Euy Khmao" (with Im Song Soeum-1972)
  • "Kamlos Kromum Heu Ha" (with Im Song Soeum-1972)
  • "Kamlos Kramom Srok Srae"
  • "Hann Pnal Da Ey" (with Eng Nary)
  • "Soll Tae Card"
  • "Pka Sarai"
  • "Srolanh Sok Krong (with Chea Savoeun)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Woman who reunited early rockers dies at 72". The Phnom Penh Post. 10 March 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Cohn, Nik (19 May 2007). "A voice from the killing fields". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Ros Serey Sothea". Khmer Music. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  4. ^ Sangvavan, Pich (30 December 2007). "Queen of Golden Voice: A Biography of Ros Serey Sothea". Khmerization. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Sisario, Ben (9 April 2015). "'Don't Think I've Forgotten,' a Documentary, Revives Cambodia's Silenced Sounds". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Downing, Andy (28 May 2015). "Film preview: Director John Pirozzi traces the history of early Cambodian rock 'n' roll in "Don't Think I've Forgotten"". Columbus Alive. Archived from the original on 17 June 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  7. ^ Novak, David (Fall 2011). "The Sublime Frequencies of New Old Media" (PDF). Public Culture. 23 (3): 603–634. doi:10.1215/08992363-1336435. S2CID 147700736. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2015.
  8. ^ Chambers-Letson, Joshua (2011). ""No, I Can't Forget": Performance and Memory in Dengue Fever's Cambodian America". Journal of Popular Music Studies. 23 (3): 259–287. doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01293.x.
  9. ^ Dow, Steve (13 September 2013). "Golden era of Cambodian music given its second airing". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. ^ Vandy Muong; Harriet Fitch Little (8 March 2016). "The man who painted Cambodian cinema's 'golden age'". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Ros Sereysothea in the army (1972)". Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 13 February 2018 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ a b c Woolfson, Daniel (19 September 2014). "Cambodian Surf Rockers Were Awesome, but the Khmer Rouge Killed Them". Vice. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  13. ^ Biron, E.L. (16 August 2017). "Who Killed the Golden Voice?". Paperhouse. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  14. ^ a b Saphan, LinDa (December 2017). "Cambodian Popular Musical Influences from the 1950s to the Present Day". ResearchGate. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  15. ^ "The Golden Voice". The Golden Voice. Retrieved 13 February 2018.

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