For Yorn Young, a songwriter and singer especially popular among Cambodian-Americans, music is not just about entertainment but also a means for reconciliation between countries.
Originally from Kampong Thom, Young began as a traditional Khmer musician before he was selected in 2013 for the OneBeat exchange program, a US State Department program that funds one-month residencies in the US for musicians around the world.
Since then, he has travelled the country, to states like Florida, New York and Minnesota, each of which is now the subject of one of the pop ballads on Young’s new album, called Lovin’ USA: Yorn Young’s Journey Across America.
“There are many huge buildings and skyscrapers, but there are many beautiful natural places such as mountains, lakes and forests,” Young told reporters last week at a press conference. “My favourite place is the sea in Florida, which should be very romantic for a couple’s visit.”
The song Beauty of Florida won him second place at the Hear My Song musical competition, organised by the Ministry of Information in 2014. Over the next four years, Young visited the US six more times, and wrote another 10 location-based songs, all sung in Khmer, like Good Bye, Chicago, The Memory of Minnesota and The Rose of Lowell, about the former mill town outside of Boston that is now home to one of the largest Cambodian diaspora communities in the world.
A few months ago, Young said, the US Embassy asked him to write a proposal for financial support to release the songs as an album, and to fund more of them in the future.
“The US Embassy continually looks at ways to highlight the ties between Cambodia and the United States, as well as support dynamic young Cambodians,” embassy spokesman David Josar said in an email last week.
Like many other musicians in Cambodia, Young is influenced by Sinn Sisamouth, the legendary musician of the 1960s and 1970s, who was known in part for writing songs about specific places, like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. Young said his works are meant not only to honour his late musical icon, but also to improve Cambodia-US relations – which have been historically fraught and have again deteriorated in recent months.
“Music is a peacemaking instrument, because it makes people understand the cultures in which it is made,” Young said. “Writing Khmer songs about the US, I believe, will bring love to the two nations, and make their relationship great again.”
Lovin’ USA: Yorn Young’s Journey Across America will be official launched at the Cambodia-Korean Cooperation Center (CKCC) at 6pm on Friday, and 500 copies will be given away to attendees. Afterward, they will be available in some stores in Phnom Penh, and can also be ordered by telephone: 010 66 60 75 and 077 86 79 47, for $2 each.