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Pop and politics a potent mix for opposition singers

Fellow Youth Justice Band member Heng Theara sings at Freedom Park
Fellow Youth Justice Band member Heng Theara sings at Freedom Park. Charlotte Pert

Pop and politics a potent mix for opposition singers

An opposition rally mixed pop and politics last night as a band featuring singers who say they were dropped by entertainment companies after joining the Cambodia National Rescue Party performed for a 5,000-strong crowd.

The Freedom Park concert featured a performance by the five-member Youth Justice Band, who played songs from their debut album, which was released yesterday.

“They are songs that talk about the fight,” CNRP lawmaker-elect and public affairs head Mu Sochua said, adding that the record discusses land issues, deforestation and abuses of Cambodian migrant workers abroad.

The title track, Nonviolence is Our Dharma, is an ode to the party’s protest tactics and delivers a message of Khmer solidarity: “No arms/no weapons/no violence/we don’t take any Khmer as our enemies/our police, our military are also Khmer”.

Sochua said she helped bring the band together during rallies in October when she noticed youths performing onstage at Freedom Park. Some of them, she said, had previously held contracts with major entertainment companies before going to work for the CNRP.

“When I heard about their contracts being cancelled, right away I said ‘this is not justice for you’,” Sochua said.

Although the CNRP does not pay their entertainers, “more than half” of the profits from album sales will be given to the artists, she said. Plans for tours to Australia, the United States and Canada for 2014 are also in
the works.

Band member Sophorn Lary, 29, who has starred in several movies made by the Cambodian Television Network, said the firm stopped calling him after he announced his support for the opposition. However, it recently offered him roles in less high-profile TV shows, he added.

“They are probably disappointed with me that I sing for CNRP events. It’s not only me – some other stars who get involved with the opposition party, they won’t be invited to star in TV shows or concerts.”

Bernard Anthony, general manager of CTN’s parent company CBS, said he was unfamiliar with Lary’s case but said that CTN enforces an anti-discrimination policy that extends to political beliefs.

Fellow Youth Justice Band member Heng Theara, who performed regularly on a number of stations, said that his participation in the CNRP is part of a lifelong distaste for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“I’ve disliked Hun Sen since I was very young,” Theara, who began his career as a six-year-old beggar singing for money, said.

“Most famous people who are singers help the CPP, and I wanted to be the first one to sing for the CNRP, to give encouragement to other people.”

He said that he began campaigning for the CNRP in August 2012 under the assumption that the party would win the elections, adding that work dried up afterwards. Although he is now living off friends’ generosity, Theara said he has no regrets.

“The CPP will pay you to perform, but I’d rather sing for the CNRP for free,” he said.

Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said that any bias against the CNRP within the entertainment industry is out of the government’s hands.

“The media has their own choice of how they use their funding,” he said.

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