A+ Entertainment teaches disadvantaged kids how to live hip-hop, but amid the training in rap and music production are lessons on how to live well
Boomer, back row left, instructs Mama, Kaka, Why and MC Tola during a class.
Mama at one of the rap and audio production classes.
In a small room on the second floor of a sparsely furnished flat, five men lean intently over a computer, their eyes following the dense beat that shows itself in jumping green lines on the screen. Their bodies bounce lightly to the music, their heads like bobbing apples, as the tunes work their familiar charms. Deep in the backstreets of Phnom Penh, hip-hop music is being made.
Bunreas Pin, better known as Boomer, a Cambodian refugee who grew up in the United States, says that during his youth he didn't just listen to hip-hop music - he lived it.
"I didn't know anything else but that culture. Once you live that life, you start by listening to the music and then you got to have the clothes and the bling-bling and watch the movies - it's a hip-hop world, you know?"
Boomer is one of 189 Cambodian-Americans who were deported to Cambodia after getting in trouble with the law.
Boomer had never been to Cambodia before he was deported here, and the American hip-hop way of life was all he knew.
We don't just teach [the kids] rap, we teach them ... how to live well.
"I got into gangs, and you get caught up in it real quick. Gangs in California are like a disease - everybody is a gangster. Anyway, I made a mistake and I got sent here, and now I've got to live with that," he said.
Boomer, with his low-riding jeans, sideways cap and street slang epitomises the hip-hop lifestyle, and once in Cambodia attracted the attention of young street children interested in the US and the perceived glamour of the hip-hop scene.
At their request, Boomer began teaching them rap and digital audio production, and the project blossomed into the recording company A+ Entertainment as the kids found a source of hope in their otherwise bleak lives.
Many of the children were drug abusers and spent their days collecting cans and using the money to get high. But Boomer says he and his friends at A+ have been able to guide many of them away from that dangerous path by talking to them honestly about their own experiences and the consequences of making bad decisions.
"All these kids coming over wanted to do something with their lives, but they felt they had no way out. At A+, we don't just teach them rap. We teach them how to live, and how to live well, how to live righteous."
A+ now has 25 students, and classes run every evening. The group has extended their activities to include songwriting and English lessons, and is currently looking for sponsors to support the production of a CD.
Boomer is pleased by the children's strong and enthusiastic response to hip-hop but says he is wary of the darker elements of hip-hop infiltrating Cambodia. He is adamant that the version of hip-hop A+ Entertainment promotes must be modified to suit Cambodian culture.
"I don't want everybody going around saying ‘ho', ‘fuck the police' and stuff like that. Hip-hop has to be moderated in Cambodia because it is a more conservative society, and we want to preserve that."