It is difficult to enjoy Pen Ran’s album if you know the story of her life. The music here is joyous, fun, and upbeat, and her voice is incredible, powerful, and piercing.
The music still sounds so cool. Retro, but cool. Whilst it is clearly been influenced by many American and European artists (some tracks wouldn’t feel out of place in a Xavier Cugat album), it is still a proudly Cambodian album, singing in her language. She also wrote many songs during her life, allegedly more than one hundred.
The reason that we don’t know that much about her life, is, of course, the Khmer Rouge genocide. Although her fate is unknown, it is very likely that she was tortured and executed. Her songs, many about flirting, being in love, or even about being single at the age of 31 (for the time and place, quite a statement) made her a distinct target for the regime. Not just her, of course, but most of her family, her band, and any singers that she would have collaborated too — such as Sinn Sisamouth, who was the ultimate Cambodian pop star of the 50s — were all persecuted and killed.
Make an effort and listen to the album twice; once aware of its context, once placing yourself in that place and time, ignoring all the atrocities that were about to happen, and for a while, be happy.