Anh Tây Bụi just left a comment which mentioned the vast number of Vietnamese songs that have been written about ethnic minority peoples who live in the mountains.
This reminded me of something that I have long been thinking about.
There are an incredible number of popular songs that were written in mainland Southeast Asia in the 1950s-1970s that make reference to specific geographic places. In many ways I think that this music played a very important role in the post-colonial nation building process, because one of the ways that people were able to “imagine” the nation was through their familiarity with songs about various places within the country.
This, however, does not mean that these songs were mere propaganda, because many of these songs were written by individuals and express their individual feelings. A good example of this are the songs by the great Cambodian singer, Sinn Sisamouth.
Sinn Sisamouth recorded over 1,000 songs before his life tragically came to an end during the Khmer Rouge period. Many of those songs were about places, and he often combined praise for a certain place with an expression of love for a woman from that place.
Take for instance his song about “The Champa of Banttambang.” The “Champa” is a kind of flower, but in this song it is also referring to a woman. (I’ve adapted the English lyrics from the version on this page.)
Oh Battambang! The center of my heart! I bid you and my love farewell.
From the moment I left, I’ve worried and thought about you all the time.
Oh Battambang! The cycle of my destiny! I wish for you night and day.
If we were a couple in a previous life, please my beloved, let us recall that time.
Through the years, do you still remember me dear? Your image alone is like my breath.
It is for you, my love, that my heart hopes, hoping to see your smile saying that we are a pair made by destiny.
Oh Battambang! I have craved for you for so long. Will there be a day when I will see you again?
My heart is filled with angst every day. Oh, I want the Champa of Battambang. Oh, I want the Champa of Battambang.
There are so many other songs like this, not only in Cambodia but in all the other countries of mainland Southeast Asia as well. All of these songs attach emotions to particular places and in the process give space a sense of place (through the romantic expressions of men).
Examining this music as part of the post-colonial nation building process from a popular level/perspective would make for a great dissertation.
If I can live for another 100 years or so, hopefully I’ll have time to get around to researching that topic, but if anyone wants to do it first, please be my guest.
For now though we can all at least feel the desire for the Champa of Battambang by listening to this nice recent version of the song.