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Rapper in search of the Khmerican dream

Rapper in search of the Khmerican dream

The conjunction of a chapey dong veng [traditional long-necked guitar] and

American hip-hop may seem somewhat incongruous. But for Khmerican rapper Prach

Ly, fusing the disparate musical styles of his two countries is an ideal means

of furthering cross-cultural understanding.

'Khmerican' Prach Ly poised for a live performance on Apsara TV on March 29 in Phnom Penh.

"Fusion music, especially

when it is modern rap and traditional Khmer, bridges the gap between East and

West," he said.

Through a playful hybridization of the diverse elements

of his two cultures, Battambang-born Ly, 26, is able to harness both the

timeless appeal of traditional music, and the social power of modern

rap.

"I hope to continue educating the younger generation about the

beauty of Khmer traditional arts and culture," Ly said. "And at the same time

use rap to draw to the attention of a larger audience the contemporary issues

facing Cambodians and Cambodian Americans."

Ly's recent return to

Cambodia was motivated by a desire to explore more deeply the Khmer influences

on his musical style.

"I want to understand why I love what I do -

making music," he said.

Ly has thrown himself into local artistic

collaborations with the aim of participating in the pressing issues facing

contemporary Cambodian musicians.

With the Tonle Bassac Project Ly uses

video to explore the role and relevance of art among people faced with abject

poverty.

Ly is documenting the innovative ways in which students and

master musicians in the Tonle Bassac squatter communities are using the arts as

a means of maintaining their own identity. In the face of increasing political

and economic persecution, their struggle is proof of the power of music as a

tool for social change.

"It may be a slum, but the streets are paved

with gold," he said. "The Bassac slum is rich because it is alive with

art."

Ly wants Cambodia's ancient musical traditions kept alive for

future generations. Consequently, he has spent much time working with Khmer

master musicians such as Kung Nai.

"I grew up listening to musical master

Kung Nai - he is my Khmer idol," Ly said. "To work with him is a huge

privilege."

Ly's recent work blends traditional melodies with

contemporary social concerns: prostitution, poverty, corruption, trafficking,

drugs, violence will all feature heavily in his next album.

"My

forthcoming album Memoirs of the Invisible War, which is the final part of my

Dalama trilogy, will have a darker tone compared to my previous work," he said.

"I am releasing it on the sixth day of the sixth month in the year 2006; the

devil himself will be listening."

DJ S'dey, 42, a veteran of Cambodia's

fledging hip-hop scene, is impressed by the breadth and depth of impact Ly has

had on Cambodia's older generation.

"He is the first person to rap about

the Khmer Rouge - and people are really listening," he said.

But Ly's

unique style has also earned him legions of younger fans, said Chim Vannak, 19,

of LoveFM.

"Ly's music is so different from what I am used to hearing

from other local rappers," Vannak said. "I actually get excited and share the

songs with my friends. His live performance really blew me away."

At the

conclusion of his Cambodian visit, Ly said he had been impressed by the nascent

Cambodian hip-hop scene.

"I have not heard much coming out of Phnom

Penh," he said. "But we are definitely moving - walking at a steady pace."

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