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Kong Nay is one of best-known and celebrated artists in the chapei tradition. The chapei tradition reached its height in 1960′s and early 1970′s as a result of the spread of radio and audio recordings carrying the voices of famous musicians across Cambodia. Originally, however, the chapei tradition belonged minstrel musicians, who wandered itinerantly composing and performing poetic tales to entertain and morally instruct young and old alike. The most notable of these performers, Phirum Ngoy, wrote poems to be sung accompanied by chapei that are still studied in Cambodian schools today. Kong Nay, while still sometimes performing classical poems like those by Phirum Ngoy, is best known from his incredible gift for improvisation, a prized skill he acquired after studying poetry for nearly two decades.

Kong Nay’s music caught the ear of Peter Gabriel, who presented him at Womad. Kong Nay’s CD release Mekong Delta Blues captures the spirit of his soulful ballads. With sharp wit and a flawless sense of rhythm and rhyme, he improvises satire in his gravelly voice, part of a thousand-year-old tradition that gives poetic license to chapei players. This program will feature Kong Nay solo for the first half of the concert, and then he will be joined New York based jazz composer/musician Ben Allison, guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Rudy Royston.

Kong Nay has since performed internationally in many countries including Australia, Belgium, France, Thailand, and Vietnam, once even stopping to perform in Africa. His stage presence, at once majestic and full of joy, continues to captivate audiences wherever he performs. Even in his sixties, his poetic gifts are stronger than ever, and his stunning ability to weave the context of each performance into his rhyming, imaginative improvisations never fails to awe and entertain.

If you can’t join us in person, view the live webcast at

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