"Fear not the future, weep not for the past." goes a Khmer proverb. It’s a motto widely adopted by today’s Cambodians, who are reaffirming their identities and embracing the sounds that shaped their history. During the Vietnam War, rock ‘n’ roll became popular, thanks to occupying American soldiers and Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Following staunch regime changes by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s – where religion was frowned upon and the arts were all but outlawed – Cambodia slowly rebuilt its fabled music community. Here are five creative outlets carrying on the traditions into the future.
Though they call themselves “easycore,” the ANTI-fate rebel via infectious melodies. They credit Green Day, Simple Plan and Blink-182 for inspiring their rambunctious sound, though we also hear the pleasantries of New Found Glory and the Get Up Kids in their tunes. Not only are they wise in the ways of rock— lead singer/guitarist Propey has a degree in IT.
Tiny Toones is a program that educates and enriches low-income children through hip-hop. The participating youngsters learn how to write and record music, breakdance, play instruments and create videos. “Anakut” is one of the cutest rap videos you’ll ever see, and it comes with a positive message: You can be anything you want to be (doctor, teacher, mogul) if you put your heart into it. (Thanks to World Hip Hop Market for the tip!)
After making the scene in 2005 with Mouse Loves Rice, the svelte and sweet Chhet Sovan Panha solidified her place in Cambodian pop music. Her ululating vocals complement the light beats, making a meditation for the dance floor or the diary confessional. She lent her voice to numerous chart-topping duets and recently performed on a TV program with her twin sister.
Think of this artist as Sophea from the Block. Hers is a rags-to-riches story in which she dropped out of high school to financially support her family. She went from selling juices to singing at a Phnom Penh restaurant, to joining the ranks of talent management company Rasmey Hang Meas. Her right-hand man, DJ Sdey, is the Pitbull to her Jennifer Lopez. Both are stars of “Khmer Karaoke,” a genre designed for singing along at clubs. (Yes, there’s an app for that.)
The kse dievis considered the one of the oldest and most difficult instruments in the Khmer pantheon to master. Yet this poised, skillfully taught artist plays it as though it were an extension of his body. He is among those supported by Cambodian Living Arts, a nonprofit that promotes the rediscovery of ancestral music. Sinat excels in smot, a traditionally sung form of poetry.
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