Kong Nay was born March 15, 1944 in Kampot, Cambodia. He is Cambodia’s most recognizable traditional musician. Kong Nay was blinded by smallpox at age four. He began his studies playing the Chapei Dong Weng at the age of thirteen. Chapei is Cambodia’s three stringed guitar and also music style where songs are improvised while playing the Chapei.
Coming from a musical family, Kong Nay grew up around relatives who were masters of traditional instruments, copying religious manuscripts, Buddhist chanting, poetry and the Chapei Dong Weng. In his youth, Kong Nay often faced ridicule from his peers for his disability. Rather than being dis-empowered by their prejudice, however, Kong Nay sought to find a vocation that would bring him independence and respect. The Chapei, whose sound had excited him from childhood, turned out to be the perfect instrument. Within two years of beginning his studies, at the age of fifteen Kong Nay began to perform professionally. His reputation grew quickly, and he soon earned the nickname Kong “Handsome” Nay.
During the Khmer Rouge genocide, Kong Nay, like so many other Cambodians, was forced to work for long hours with little food. Unlike most of his fellow musicians, however, Kong Nay was unbelievably spared from the regime’s attempts to wipe out intellectuals and artists.
In 2007 he received the Gold Grand Cross of Cambodia Cultural Reputation by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In 2017 Kong Nay received the Arts and Culture Prize of the prestigious Fukuoka Prize.