Homegrown hip-hop sensations KorMix rapped up a storm on the Global Youth Village stage in Mexico City at an international AIDs conference
The KorMix kids, Cambodia's home-grown hip-hop stars, received a hero's welcome home on Sunday after a stint in Mexico City where they performed in front of a 240,000-strong audience at an international Aids conference.
"They were getting asked for autographs and photos in Mexico ... they loved it," said Wicked, director of KorMix's parent organization, Korsang, a local harm-reduction NGO.
"They just love to perform," he said.
Five members of KorMix, a creative crew of former and current drug addicts who use hip-hop music and breakdancing as a way of getting clean, travelled with Wicked and KorMix luminary Boomer to Mexico City.
"We were a bit afraid of making a mistake on stage, but were excited when the crowd started cheering for us," said Makara, 18, a KorMix performer and former drug user.
KorMix is a creative arts program that was established by Korsang two years ago, which gives current and former drug users the opportunity to build character and leadership by letting them create hip-hop music.
"Participants can write their own beats and lyrics and record songs in the Torsou or "Survivor" studio," said Wicked.
But the songs KorMix create are a far cry from standard hip-hop fare and Korsang's rappers lay down tracks about drug prevention like "Why, Why, Why", a song that will be featured in an upcoming documentary about Korsang made by David Everhardt.
The trip to Mexico was the first overseas trip for the five members of KorMix - Chhoun Sambath, Kong Piseth, Sorn Makara, Chhon Sambo and Bo Tethiadeth.
While nerves were running high when it was time to go on stage, the KorMix kids feel confident that they have shown the world that Cambodians can breakdance and rap as well as anybody else.
"We were so happy to perform our song and do some breakdancing for [the audience in Mexico]," said Makara, who added that Mexico had made "a real impression," and that he and all the KorMix kids would visit Mexico again if they had the chance.
The five have all confirmed that they have now stopped using drugs. "I feel better since I have stopped using drugs and my breakdancing has also improved," Piseth, 19, said.
For Tethiadeth, who at 17 was the youngest KorMix kid to go to Mexico, the trip also showed him how valuable compassion can be, he said, adding that discrimination against drug users in his native Cambodia upsets him as "I feel people should help drug users be different, help them improve instead of ignoring them."