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Khmer hip-hop label drops first all-star record

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Cambodia’s first and only independent hip-hop label has released a retrospective CD featuring its most popular artists. Photograph: supplied

Cambodia's first and only independent hip-hop music label, Klap Ya Handz, is commemorating its seventh year with the release of Cream of the Krop, a full-length retrospective CD featuring some of its most popular artists.

After years of depending primarily on internet distribution, this will be the studio’s first album available for purchase at local venues. The venture marks a new phase for the small Phnom Penh-based recording company, which recently inaugurated a new recording studio and plans to produce more full-length albums in the future.

“Since I established Klap Ya Handz seven years ago, I have rarely released music on CDs,” said Sok “Cream” Visal, founder and Executive Producer of Klap Ya Handz. “People complained that they could not find our music because we hadn’t released it on an album yet. But our old season has finished. Now we will start our new season. We’ll produce about 15 songs to put on disc and sell like other production companies.”

Contrary to most mainstream hip-hop, KYH’s music does not limit itself to themes of love, lust or violence. The lyrics of songs often contain a positive message and tell about daily life, young people, education, Cambodian history and Cambodian culture.

Recordings regularly sample classic 1960s Cambodian music or traditional instruments and mix them with hip-hop beats and rap lyrics to create a style that is unlike any other music currently being produced in the Kingdom.

Cream hopes that this style will serve to promote classical music among the younger generation of Cambodians that may have never cared about it before.

“We are not the first Cambodian generation to mix our traditional music with foreign melodies. Our previous musicians started mixing with foreign melodies such as cha-cha-cha to create new music forms. They mixed with rock. But in our generation we just mix it with rap,” he said.

Cream of the Crop includes 33 songs produced over the past seven years and which have proved favourites among both local and overseas audiences.

“Cambodian people who live in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or European countries know our production better than Cambodian people here. They listen to our music on the internet, and they really support us,” he said.

However, the label has also worked to make its music accessible to local people, allowing them to copy music for free or to access it via the group’s YouTube, Facebook and MySpace pages.

Cream says he’s found that his music has reached even remote areas of Cambodia.

The album features some of the label’s all-stars, such as Lisha, Aping, Tum and Khmer Kid, all of which have already gained wide recognition in the Cambodia’s burgeoning hip-hop scene.

Even though Klap Ya Handz has not released a full-length album until now, its artists are regularly invited to perform at clubs or concerts like February’s Tiger Translate Festival. It’s mainly through these regular appearances that KYH has gained a loyal local following.

With the new recording studio, Cream hopes to not only continue nurturing local hip-hop talent, but also to expand Klap Ya Handz’ work beyond hip-hop to other musical forms like R&B and alternative, lounge-style music.

Until then, Phnom Penh hip-hop heads will be happy to finally get their hands on a Klap Ya Handz CD, available as of this week for $3 at select Riverside, Russian Market, Wat Langka and Sorya Shopping Mall outlets.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at roth.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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