Battambang rapper Ngoun Chan Devith’s original song Rorm Nhi Kaeng Jerng took over Angkor Sangkran, inspired imitation videos and got Prime Minister Hun Sen to shake a leg over Khmer New Year. The 21-year-old spoke with Vandy Muong this week about his surprise success.
What do you think about your song Rorm Nhi Kaeng Jerng being played across the country for Khmer New Year?
We were surprised [at the reaction], because we didn’t know which of the songs released for Khmer New Year would be popular. I am more excited about the appreciation from people for their support of original songs. It has inspired me a lot to compose more of my own songs. We have tried hard to compose lyrics, a melody and dancing style that is original, because we wanted to show that we can create our own song and dance for our people.
Is the song an original composition? How did you come up with the unique dance steps?
Rorm Nhi Kaeng Jerng is an original song with original dance steps that me and my team worked on together. I cannot do all the work alone, so I needed help from different people to develop a better idea. I composed the song, but the team worked on finding the dance steps for the song. What made Rorm Nhi Kaeng Jerng famous is that people find it easy to dance to.
Why do you think the song is so catchy?
Rorm Nhi Kaeng Jerng isn’t much different from other songs. But the lyrics are funny and not obscene or rude. I wanted to show people that we don’t need to use bad words to make it funny. It is based on a cha-cha-cha like melody, which is rare in Khmer music. Not many people know what cha-cha-cha is because it is a short-melody style of music writing.
What did you do before you become a singer?
In 2011, I came to Phnom Penh to work at a phone store. While working at the shop, I learned how to edit music and videos. While fixing phones, I would sing covers of songs from different singers. I started by singing a cover of a music video from South Korean rapper G-Dragon and then started composing my own songs. I uploaded them to YouTube, but they never became very popular.
How did you join Hang Meas Production? What kinds of songs do you compose and sing at first?
I joined Hang Meas production in 2015. I knew Pich Sophea, a Cambodian singer at Hang Meas Production, and after I had covered a few songs, we decided to work together on a new song. Our first song together was Café 1,500. In the song, she sings and I was rapping. Actually, I have never gone to music school, but my passion is music, especially hip-hop and rap songs.
Do you have any plan to compose more original songs in the future?
Yes. Until now, we always discuss with the team and production company owner before we compose and edit for each and every song. We want to have support from our people, and to make music that is enjoyable. Although we got different reactions from the audience, both good and bad, we don’t feel too much pressure, and we don’t give up, but we try hard to continue with our passion. We want to see Khmer people value and support Khmer original songs. We are glad, because the government values and supports our original songs.
Interview edited for length and clarity.