A group of Khmer hip hop dancers, singers and rappers from local NGO Tiny Toones is hoping to travel to Australia next year and meet up with Aussie retail outlet and music label Obese Records.
Dancers Homie, Fresh, Flex, Kha, Slick, Tou, Diamond and Tra and singers/rappers Beaver, Ya and Vouch are aiming to go with Tiny Toones founder KK for a series of gigs and workshops, in a donor-funded tour.
Tiny Toones is a school for a small group of underprivileged youth in Phnom Penh, but it doesn’t have a typical curriculum.
Sure, they have English and Khmer language lessons, as well as maths and computers, but Tiny Toones also gives kids a chance to study hip hop, through classes in music, art and dance.
Tiny Toones started when founder KK (number 23 on CNN’s People To Watch list) was deported from the United States.
KK was born in a Thai refugee camp and grew up in the US. After returning to Cambodia he used his skills in counselling and drug rehabilitation to help children. But when the kids found out that he was quite well known in the US as a breakdancer, it didn’t take long for them to wear down his reluctance and get him to show them some moves.
General manager Romi Grossberg picks up the story. “Eventually he gave in,” she said. “Then he started having a bunch of about eight kids showing up at his house, dancing every night after work. The word just spread and it got bigger and bigger until he moved into a bigger place, and then in 2007 he got funding to allow it to move out of his house and into an actual centre. His dream was to help the kids with life skills and education, rather than just the dance aspect.”
There is no shortage of people in Australia who are just as keen to see this dream come to fruition. Tirren Staaf is the owner of Obese Records in Australia, a retail outlet and record label that has released music by Australia’s most prominent hip hop artists, including Hilltop Hoods, M-Phazes, and Bliss N Eso. Staaf recently visited Cambodia as a tourist, and immediately fell in love with the country.
He is excited about the possibility of showing the students the Australian hip hop culture, and is well aware of the positive impacts it can have on young people. “We’ve been organising workshops with kids of various backgrounds for years,” he said.
“In prisons, housing commission flats, in regional areas – people involved with Obese would have done hundreds if not thousands of workshops over the last ten years.”
Tirren says he has been in love with hip hop since he was about eight years old, so he can relate to how big an impact it can have on young people. “Hip hop is there as a tool to express yourself,” he said.
“Especially as a kid it gives you an opportunity to better yourself, learn new skills, to build self confidence and self esteem. It’s a very powerful medium.”