Find out where we've been, and where we're going.
Mission and Impact
Can you imagine never having heard live music? This is the story of The Bus. Our mission is to restore Cambodia’s rich musical heritage by connecting traditional musicians with people in rural villages who would not otherwise have access to this important part of their culture and history. The Bus was inspired and co-founded by musician and human rights activist Arn Chorn Pond. Since 2013 it has traveled more than 60,000 km across Cambodia giving free performances and providing educational opportunities, reaching thousands.
The impact of this work can be seen in the joy of the master musicians, their students, and their audiences. Surviving Master musicians, forced into hiding during the time of the Khmer Rouge, use The Bus to fulfill their dream to play traditional music publicly and pass their knowledge to a new generation. Audiences don’t just get to enjoy a great concert, they also get to learn about the music and instruments by actually touching and playing them.
How The Bus Rolls
The Khmer Magic Music Bus is a program of Cambodian Living Arts, managed by Cambodian co-founder Thorn Seyma, an internationally recognized performer and advocate for the arts. Working with her brother Dika, they plan, organize, promote, document, and perform at events throughout the country.
As they continue their outreach, they establish relationships with new villages and deepen existing connections through return visits. This has resulted in exciting discoveries, like a master who can actually play the phloy, which previously had only been seen, and new initiatives, like establishing a class in northern Cambodia to teach traditional arts.
Why We Need The Bus
In the late 1970’s, Cambodian arts were under attack from the Khmer Rouge regime, whose stated goal was to return to the “year zero” by eliminating all forms of prior art, culture, and knowledge. This campaign resulted in the death of one quarter of the population and ninety percent of the artists in Cambodia. The remaining ten percent were scattered and hiding, unable to share the joy of their art with others.
Decades after the Khmer Rouge had fallen, Arn Chorn Pond dedicated his life to locating these artists and restoring them to their rightful place in Cambodian society. On one trip, Master of the khene, Mon Hai, was traveling to connect with other musicians who had been in hiding. The group stopped by the side of the road for a quick break near a small village.
When asked to play, Master Hai eagerly agreed. As he did so, something special happened. At first, it was just the village children who came out, peeking around trees to listen and watch. Then, the adults followed, captivated by the sound and energy created in the moment. No one there had ever heard live music performed, or had access to their own cultural music.
This is how the idea for The Bus was born.
Inspired by this amazing experience, a group formed with the goal to recreate it all over Cambodia. As a result, a crowdfunding campaign in May of 2013 raised $36,000 in 35 days from 362 supporters in 19 countries. While the focus of the campaign was to buy a bus and pay for its first tour, it ended up funding multiple tours through that summer and fall, and The Bus continued to roll, connecting artists with communities in every Cambodian province until 2018.
Preserving the Legacy
Though the original Bus is gone, the magic continues through Seyma and Dika’s performances, community outreach, and education, but the scope is more limited. This is why we are now looking for a new Bus, so that the program can once again reach its full potential — ensuring that the next generation of Cambodian children and artists can connect with their heritage and experience the joy of live music. Our goal and greatest wish is to secure regular funding, annual funding, or ongoing funding for The Bus and its mission. We strive to provide stability and continuity necessary to make this amazing work sustainable; we would love your help.