Home-Grown Hip Hop Tries Catch On in Cambodia

Phnom Penh’s riverfront night market on Saturday evening hosted as many as a thousand people at an independent music and street art festival, with more than 20 Khmer hip hop musicians, four graffiti artists and a breakdancing group brought together by production company Klap Ya Handz.

The event called “Rise Up” aimed to unite artists from the Cambodian hip hop scene who often work separately, according to Sok “Cream” Visal, producer at Klap Ya Handz.

“This is the biggest hip hop show there’s been,” Mr Visal said. “It only became that big because everyone came onboard.”

Andrew Martin, a partner in Klap Ya Handz, said that Cambodian artists are initially exposed to foreign music then look to develop their own style fusing in traditional sounds accompanied by Khmer lyrics.

“The music is from a local context with a local content-It’s 100 percent Khmer music,” Mr Martin said, adding that all the tracks are original.

“This is the first time we celebrate this kind of meeting under the concept of saving what we have and mixing what the world has together,” said Pou Khlaing, a performer. MC Lisha, a female rapper who also presented “Rise Up,” said she hoped the night would spark a real interest in the music. “The event is all about inspiring and bringing hip hop to Cambodia,” she said.

Graffiti artists from abroad also painted on canvas at the front of the stage to introduce a different artistic expression, Mr Martin said, while a group of breakdancers from Battambang province performed.

Klap Ya Handz stays apolitical yet some of the artists it works with broach social issues. One performer, MC Curly, who lived on the streets of Phnom Penh as a child, uses politicized lyrics to demand change.

Perhaps new to hip-hop, many in the crowd appeared more curious than excited. The night was a start but it also showed that Khmer hip-hop still has a long way to go. With promotion and equipment costs, the event lost money even though all the artists performed for free, an organizer said.

“Hip hop is not a copy but original. I want to tell all people this is the life in Cambodia…. I rap to talk because I want government and organizations to help more,” he said.


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