Kong Nay, A Living Legend of Cambodia

Kong Nay (born March 15, 1944 in Kampot Province, Cambodia) is a Cambodian musician who plays the Chapei Dang Veng, a classic long-necked fretted plucked instrument from southwestern Cambodia. He is known as the “Ray Charles of Cambodia” since he is one of the few great masters to have survived the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was blinded by smallpox at the age of four and began studying the chapei dang weng lute at the age of thirteen. Chapei is a traditional form of improvised song-making musical instrument.

Kong Nay grew up in a musical family, surrounded by relatives who were masters of traditional instruments, religious manuscript copying, poetry, Buddhist chanting and the chapei dang weng. Rather than being disempowered by his prejudice, Kong Nay picked out a career that allowed him to be self-sufficient and respected.

The chapei, whose music had captivated him since he was a boy, proved to be the perfect instrument. At the age of fifteen, Kong Nay began performing professionally just two years after starting his education. His popularity immediately soared, and he was given the nickname Kung “Handsome” Nay.

While Kong Nay still performs classical poems by Phirum Ngoy on occasions, he is better recognised for his amazing gift for improvisation, which he developed after nearly two decades of studying poetry.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen awarded him the Gold Grand Cross of Cambodia Cultural Reputation in 2007. Kong Nay was awarded the renowned Fukuoka Prize’s Arts & Culture Prize in 2017.

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