As a child, Sin Setsochhata had tagged along with her father when he would sing on stage and by the time she was a teenager she was already familiar not only with performing on stage but also with composing music and writing lyrics for her own songs.
But she often felt like all anyone would ever want to hear were the songs of her famous grandfather, the legendary Sin Sisamouth, perhaps Cambodia’s most celebrated singer from its pre-war period of cultural renaissance.
Over the past few years, Setsochhata has been busy working in music production for films and with online entertainment outlets but she had avoided pursuing a career as a professional artist until just recently.
The day she began to officially see herself as a professional artist was January 14 to be exact, an important day for her career and a turning point in her life because she released her debut single with an official announcement (and her first appearance as a professional artist) taking place at a press conference at Raffles Hotel Le Royal.
The 27-year-old artist embarked on her journey by signing with KlapYaHandz Music, an independent/alternative hip-hop record label that has had a steadily growing influence on the contemporary Cambodian music scene over the past two decades by promoting and supporting some of the country’s most creative and original artists.
The fact that her late grandfather was the legendary Cambodian crooner Sin Sisamouth was, ironically, the thing that made her hesitate to get involved with the music industry at first, Setsochhata tells The Post.
“It was funny how my whole family – from my grandpa to my parents to my brother, all of them are artists, but when it came to me I was just not ready to live that life yet,” she said.
Though she’s always been recognised as being naturally talented, and she had many invitations to appear on entertainment programs when she was younger, Setsochhata had previously been reluctant to carry on the family’s musical legacy.
“In my father’s generation I saw how people [at the time] didn’t really value artists. I saw very clearly – firsthand – how hard it was to live like one.”
She overcame her doubts after the deaths of her father and her brother. Losing them woke up the artist inside of her and she is now determined to continue on this path for her family and she hopes that in doing so she can make her late father, Sin Chanchhaya, proud.
“I am happy now that I have finally made the decision to stand up and be heard – regardless of what the future holds – because I’m doing it for my family,” she says.
Though Setsochhata hadn’t been actively performing on stage or recording until the past year or so, she had started to get involved professionally with the music industry over the past few years as people began to recognise that she had inherited the family’s ear for music and that she had quietly developed her own musical proficiency and skill set.
She started out in 2018 by editing three songs for the film Music Magic Love and then in 2019 she was asked to sing a cover of her grandfather’s most famous song Champa Battambang for the soundtrack to the film In the Life of Music directed by Caylee So and Sok Visal, which was Cambodia’s submission in 2019 to the Oscars for the foreign-language film category.
After spending some time working on her original music and rehearsing Sethsochhata signed with the KlapYaHandz label.
Setsochhata has a lifetime of experience singing on the stage already with events like charity concerts, weddings and other informal appearances, but she still never called herself an artist. That was just part of everyday life in her family.
However, the decision to become a professional artist worried her because she doesn’t want to live the rest of her life in her grandfather’s shadow or constantly be compared to him.
“To be clear, I don’t mean that I want to cut off my grandfather’s bloodline or that I reject his legacy, because that isn’t true at all either,” she insists.
On the day of her debut she says she is also worried because this is her first time doing something like this and she doesn’t know how the process works or how things will go.
She has no clue if the music she made will be liked and supported by the Cambodian public or fans of her grandfather, father or brother but she says that whatever happens she can handle it.
“I just want people to know me because of me and not just because of my grandfather or anyone else from my family,” she says.
Sethsochhata tells The Post that from a young age she started tagging along with her father when he performed at restaurants, bars and night clubs in the late 90s and early 2000s as a means to support the family and she would find herself captivated by the atmosphere of his live performances.
“It saddens me to hear people comparing me to him and asking such dumb questions like ‘why does her voice sound different from her grandpa’s or her father’s’.
“My goal is to keep being myself, do things my own way and make art that is my own,” she says.
Sethsochhata has written and recorded three original songs so far for KlapYaHandz. The first song to debut will be Realization, which takes inspiration from the blues genre. The other two songs are also scheduled for release in the near future.
Two of her first three songs are sung in Khmer and one of them is in English. The song with English lyrics has a different feel than the Khmer-language songs, and is mainly about her life experiences.
Sethsochhata says she decided to sing a song in English because it was a dream of hers from a young age when she discovered that she really loved listening to English-language [American or western-style] music.
She says that was the music that really inspired her and motivated her to make her own music and she wants to sing in both English and Khmer to see if she can appeal to both Cambodian and international audiences.
“My mother tongue will always be my first priority because some of my songs will have a meaning that is just for Cambodians but I’m also going to do songs in English because I believe this will be the next step for us as artists to go from the local market to the international stage,” she says.
Sethsochhata says she didn’t want to release too many songs at once because composing a song takes an outpouring of spontaneous emotion and feeling.
“I don’t want to force [the song-writing process] by biting off more than I can chew. I will try to take things slowly,” she says.
Sethsochhata told The Post that she didn’t want this whole article to just be about her or her family and so she insisted we mention her gratitude to the KlapYaHandz founder and creative director Sok Visal who she says is like a brother to her.
“I decided to work with him because he is kind and having an artist blow-up [in popularity] isn’t as important to him as making sure that his artists enjoy the creative process and that they love what they’re doing. He lets us choose to do what we love and he never forces us to do anything.
“That’s why I’m comfortable and don’t feel pressured working with him. And I mean ‘with’ him. Just to clarify things, I am not working ‘for’ him.
“We are working together for the [sake of] art and music in Cambodia,” she concludes.
To see the music video for Sin Sethsochhata’s song “Realization” check @KlapYaHandzMusic this February 8th on Facebook: