The conjunction of a chapey dong veng [traditional long-necked guitar] and
American hip-hop may seem somewhat incongruous. But for Khmerican rapper Prach
Ly, fusing the disparate musical styles of his two countries is an ideal means
of furthering cross-cultural understanding.
'Khmerican' Prach Ly poised for a live performance on Apsara TV on March 29 in Phnom Penh.
"Fusion music, especially
when it is modern rap and traditional Khmer, bridges the gap between East and
West," he said.
Through a playful hybridization of the diverse elements
of his two cultures, Battambang-born Ly, 26, is able to harness both the
timeless appeal of traditional music, and the social power of modern
"I hope to continue educating the younger generation about the
beauty of Khmer traditional arts and culture," Ly said. "And at the same time
use rap to draw to the attention of a larger audience the contemporary issues
facing Cambodians and Cambodian Americans."
Ly's recent return to
Cambodia was motivated by a desire to explore more deeply the Khmer influences
on his musical style.
"I want to understand why I love what I do -
making music," he said.
Ly has thrown himself into local artistic
collaborations with the aim of participating in the pressing issues facing
contemporary Cambodian musicians.
With the Tonle Bassac Project Ly uses
video to explore the role and relevance of art among people faced with abject
Ly is documenting the innovative ways in which students and
master musicians in the Tonle Bassac squatter communities are using the arts as
a means of maintaining their own identity. In the face of increasing political
and economic persecution, their struggle is proof of the power of music as a
tool for social change.
"It may be a slum, but the streets are paved
with gold," he said. "The Bassac slum is rich because it is alive with
Ly wants Cambodia's ancient musical traditions kept alive for
future generations. Consequently, he has spent much time working with Khmer
master musicians such as Kung Nai.
"I grew up listening to musical master
Kung Nai - he is my Khmer idol," Ly said. "To work with him is a huge
Ly's recent work blends traditional melodies with
contemporary social concerns: prostitution, poverty, corruption, trafficking,
drugs, violence will all feature heavily in his next album.
forthcoming album Memoirs of the Invisible War, which is the final part of my
Dalama trilogy, will have a darker tone compared to my previous work," he said.
"I am releasing it on the sixth day of the sixth month in the year 2006; the
devil himself will be listening."
DJ S'dey, 42, a veteran of Cambodia's
fledging hip-hop scene, is impressed by the breadth and depth of impact Ly has
had on Cambodia's older generation.
"He is the first person to rap about
the Khmer Rouge - and people are really listening," he said.
unique style has also earned him legions of younger fans, said Chim Vannak, 19,
"Ly's music is so different from what I am used to hearing
from other local rappers," Vannak said. "I actually get excited and share the
songs with my friends. His live performance really blew me away."
conclusion of his Cambodian visit, Ly said he had been impressed by the nascent
Cambodian hip-hop scene.
"I have not heard much coming out of Phnom
Penh," he said. "But we are definitely moving - walking at a steady pace."