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The fact that no one in his family had any involvement with music didn’t stop 20-year-old Oun Batham from pursuing his love and passion for song. Neither did the fact that he was born and raised in Rattanakiri’s north-east province, where development and modernization have only recently arrived.
You would never know that his parents discouraged his interest in music by looking at the recent successes in Oun Batham’s musical career. He is the leader of two bands made up of fellow Cambodian youth who together have put on four public performances.
“I have loved singing and listening to music since I was so young that I cannot remember,” said Oun Batham, who became interested in the guitar in grade 8 and 9 when he started seeing the instrument on TV. When he went to a party and got to sing with a group of people playing guitar, he truly fell in love with the instrument. “The sound of the guitar was really sweet and beautiful and it made me think ‘If I know how to play it by myself and sing at the same time; that would be awesome.’”
Rather than go to music school, Oun Batham started learning the guitar in 2006, but after four months his friend became too busy with exams and he lost his mentor. He said he was still aching to learn the instrument and he realized that since he already knew the basics he could buy books or surf the internet for musical notations and learn to play them himself.
“I could not ask anyone since I learned by myself and it occasionally discouraged me,” he said. However, he convinced himself that if he really wanted to learn something he could teach himself. Once he came to Phnom Penh and enrolled in the economics programme at the Royal University of Law and Economic (RULE), where he is now a junior, he began to watch instructional Youtube video’s to improve his guitar skills.
Despite his individual efforts to improve, Oun Batham still can’t write songs on his own, but has recently been cooperating with a friend of his brother’s to make original music. He explained that he takes the song once the music has been written and adds lyrics that fit his voice and singing style.
The impact of the songs has been greater than he expected, Oun Batham told Lift, expressing the astonishment and excitement he felt when the audience at his concerts started to sing along.
When asked whether he wanted to pursue his career in music, he replied that although his family supported a career built around his studies at university, he would continue his career as a musician until the day his audience says he can’t sing and stop listening to him.
“I really want to be an artist but I feel that I need a regular salary like working in an organization or running a business or company to support myself,” he said.
Regardless of his decision, the young musician still has almost two years at university, so you will have plenty of chances to see him play in Phnom Penh before he decides if the life of a musician is for him.