Tony Re-al has been a boy band singer, actor, MC, producer and DJ. After growing up in the US, he relocated to Cambodia as an adult and launched music-production company Alpha Vision Entertainment. At his slick recording studio earlier this week, he spoke to Vandy Muong and Harriet Fitch Little about the most exciting musicians on the scene
Someone who’s working really hard is Cambodian-American pop star Laura Mam. She’s working with a lot of traditional sounds, remixing them and bringing them to the mainstream in Cambodia. That’s something I did 10 years ago, but I wasn’t given credit back then – when we performed, people would think we were Thai or Indonesian because of the way with dressed with the jewellery. Laura has international exposure right now. She’s one of the very few artists I really admire, because she came here and really took over the game. At the same time, she’s a female artist, so there are lots of opportunities for endorsement with that.
Arn Chorn-Pond [founder of Cambodia Living Arts] is like my older brother, my mentor. He’s the person who actually got me to Cambodia in the first place – I came here on a program through Cambodia Living Arts where they invited Cambodian-American youth to visit Cambodia. I was a musical artist over there, with a boy band who did lots of social-consciousness music, so they brought me here to perform. It was through Arn that we all learned to incorporate traditional sounds with modern stuff. It was very exciting, and we started going to different colleges and schools [in the US] and talking about Cambodia’s fractured culture – that kind of thing. I’m really connected to the traditional stuff here. One of the best places for seeing performers is at the National Museum, where Cambodia Living Arts do their shows.
In terms of remixing, we have Sok Visal, founder of Klap Ya Handz. He has been influential internationally. We actually recorded a song together called Ocean Breeze back in 2007. We went down to Otres Beach, back when nothing was there, and shot a clip that went crazy on YouTube. One of the local rapper kids, DJ Kdep, remixed it and it became very popular. Sok Visal kind of works the reverse way from me. I’ll compose modern melodies and then bring in a master musician to transpose it into traditional sounds, but Sok wants to revive music by introducing the ’60s music through sampling.
Another person I have to recognise is Pou Khlaing. He’s been very influential for the past 10 years, but for the last two he’s been quite quiet because he got married and had to take care of some family business. He mixes a lot of Khmer songs, which he sings and writes and incorporates with traditional sound. If you ask the local kids, he’s very famous. He was big here and grew up in the States for a little bit and then came back. We’ve recorded a lot of stuff together, but it’s just never been the right time to release it. Now I think Cambodia is ready for it, because they’re giving a lot of credit to original songs and writing.
Nen Tum is a Pou Khlaing protégé. But he’s up on his own now – very creative and writing his own songs also. He’s a rapper, a singer, and an actor, which Khlaing is too. In fact, we’re all from theatre. Now Nen Tum is one of the cast members of Hip Hop in Asia. I was a stringer and one of the co-hosts for the show when they came here, and they wanted to see the different acts here. They wanted to see another guy here too – Khmer Mouy Jivit – who was very controversial. He’s got very political lyrics – some of the stuff he addresses are issues that I don’t think the local people want to talk about – corruption, all these abuses and oppressions. That’s just him.