Hip-hop maestro Jessica Srin, aka MC Lisha, has been picked to bring her vibrant blend of beats and classical Khmer sound to cities across the US this autumn.
Next month, the Khmer rapper, a veteran artist with KlapYaHandz, the biggest Khmer hip-hop label in Cambodia, will fly to Florida to work with musicians from around the globe.
The group will compose and perform music during the month-long residency project, OneBeat, a cultural exchange organised by the US Department of State.
The group of 31 musicians from 21 countries will then go on tour to cities throughout the US to perform the music they have developed.
Srin, one of only two musicians from Southeast Asia invited to take part (the other is Indonesian drummer Sri Joko Raharjo), says she was surprised to have been chosen.
The hip-hop scene in Cambodia, although vibrant, is still developing and is greeted with suspicion by many in the country, she says.
“I am delighted and proud that I was chosen.
“It is a surprise not to see any musicians from neighbouring countries get picked, yet I am from Cambodia, where hip-hop music is not yet fully supported.
“Many Cambodians still have this mind-set that hip-hop is a bad influence. I want to make something useful out of hip-hop by combining it with Khmer traditional music and writing lyrics that educate and empower listeners.”
The growing influence of Korean K-Pop among Cambodian teenagers makes it even more important that modern artists retain the Khmer identity, Srin says.
“The young audience has been overwhelmed with Korean music. It makes them lose their own identity. So why don’t we support what is ours?” she says.
Srin’s interest in classical Khmer music was piqued as a student at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. After graduating in the late 1990s, she took a job as a nightclub singer, then became a radio DJ in early 2000.
Now Srin, 30, is best known for her work as part of the KlapYaHandz collective, where she mixes fast-paced rhymes with Khmer sounds from traditional xylophones and drums.
The mother-of-three has also sound-tracked commercials for Cellcard and La Vie mineral water and worked as a song lyricist.
This Friday, Pontoon will host a celebration for her participation in the One Beat music project with a $4 entrance fee for expats and $2 for Cambodian nationals.
Other artists, including Christina Thomas, Aaliyah, Rhiannon Johnson and Prince Sao, will also perform.
The doors will open at 8pm, and the show will last until 11:30pm.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chanvetey Vann at [email protected]