My dream “is to write meaningful and original Khmer and English music that is relevant to the soulsearching of the next generation of Khmer people all over the world,” said 23-yer-old Laura Tevary Mam, a Khmer-American whose music has been reaching the Khmer diaspora through the internet. “I want to bring Khmer music back to life.”
Laura’s presence on YouTube, beginning in April 2008, has attracted millions of views, as she has used the site as a stage to perform for fans across borders and continents. She is finally beginning to receive attention from fans in Cambodia, which her parents left more than two decades ago.
“Laura’s craving to write music will offer a missing part that this country has longed for,” Said Prum Seila, a senior media student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh who did a research study on YouTube access in the Kingdom. “When I introduced her YouTube channel to my circle of friends, they became fascinated by her solo performance and the word began to spread online and offline.”
Laura’s grandfather was a Cambodian congressman in the 1960s, but she has grown up in an entirely different world with her parents in California. She was encouraged as a musician from a young age. “My father is a wonderful singer and still sings in weddings to this day,” she wrote in an email to Lift. “He taught me a lot about how to express emotion when singing, and I have always been inspired by him.” Now a talented singer, guitarist and writer, she hopes to use music to reconnect with her countrymen in Cambodia. She periodically releases new music videos through video sharing websites like YouTube and her personal blog.
The graduate of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, sees her role as “one pillar of a bridge of communication between all of us through music and a movement of self-understanding”. She added that she hopes that Cambodian artists can revive Khmer music and help reconcile political conflicts in the Kingdom.
Releasing her music online has given her a platform to reach international audiences so that her voice can be heard around the world and the world can give her feedback. She says creativity is spurred on by the chance to perform, “and Cambodians love to perform, it’s in our blood”. The Cambodian Diaspora musician said that “it is when artists come together that creativity seems to jump. You learn a lot from being around a lot of different kinds of artists and seeing life as art; it can inspire more creativity than most people know.”
While Laura says she is inspired by Ros Serey Sothea, Cambodia’s most beloved singer of the golden era, her fame has come in a very different way. Armed with a laptop and a built-in webcam, she can capture and broadcast her performances from her very own bedroom. “YouTube changed my life by allowing me to connect with all kinds of different encouraging people. These people inspired me to write music for the people and from my heart without fear.”
Music has often helped Laura ease the pain that comes from a life spent questioning her mother and family about what occurred in the past, who they were now and who Cambodians were before the war. “I started writing my own songs because it acted as a journal for me whenever I was sad. It became my therapy,” she explained. “And finally in college, I started playing for crowds and started feeling comfortable putting these journal songs out to the public.”
Supported by her experiences as a musician, she encourages other young Cambodians to express their fears, loves and desires for the future.
“Art and pop culture is already within us. My dream is to coax this out of the youth and to inspire Cambodians to simply understand themselves and their history by expressing themselves.”
Thyda Buth says of her daughter, “When I was pregnant with Laura, I prayed to Buddha to please give me a happy beautiful child who is very kind. Buddha answered my prayers and more. Laura is strong, talented, grounded and extraordinarily bright.”
As an employee of a non-profit organisation that does conservation work at World Heritage sites, including Cambodia’s ancient Banteay Chhmar temple, Laura has also found time to continue her musical endeavours. Last year, she formed a band, Like Me’s. Her dream is “to play at Olympic Stadium in Cambodia for everyone with Preap Sovat! I want Preap Sovat to sing a song to music that I wrote. I want to bring new original music to Cambodia, music that we didn’t take from any other country. Music that is written by a Khmer heart, sung by a Khmer woman and played by a Khmer musician.”