Singer and songwriter Pov Kem Oun, also known by his stage name Mr Oun, is one of Cambodia’s up and coming musical talents.
The 28-year-old released his first album, Looking for Love, this September in collaboration with Baramey Production, and it has proved an instant success.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Oun told The Post of the trials and tribulations he faced in establishing himself in the music industry and the need for Cambodian’s to support their national music artists.
Prior to his music career, Oun was studying for his bachelor’s degree in English, before dropping out after being encouraged in 2006 by DJ Aping, who has since deceased, to pursue a career in music full time.
“He saw my talent and hoped to see my voice heard by millions of people one day. Sadly he passed away before he could see his vision come true.”
Oun has now been in the music industry for more than 10 years, acting as a songwriter and music composer for many major studios in Cambodia and ghostwriting hit songs for famous artists.
But despite his behind the scenes success, Oun says he has struggled to rise as a star in his own right in the Kingdom.
Covering already famous foreign songs sometimes felt like an easier way to gain overnight success, rather than writing and performing his own original material, Oun said.
“It’s was very hard for me. When I first became a singer, the music industry had very limited opportunities for newcomers to make it as a star,” he said.
But the release of his first album, Looking for Love, in September was a groundbreaking moment for the young artist.
The album was launched with great pomp in a show featuring celebrated artists Laura Mam and Kmeng Khmer, three international professional dancers, a troupe of Cambodian hip-hop dancers, as well as featured traditional Khum instrument for added flourish.
But, most importantly, his debut album featured six of Oun’s own original tracks. Unlike many pop songs in the Kingdom that firmly stay around the themes of romance and love, Oun’s six original tracks – that took over a year to write and produce – tackle complex issues and span genres from rap to ballads.
Value of Life is one track about striking a balance between working hard and playing hard. But this playful number is an exception on an album full of songs with socially conscious messages.
Most prominent among these is Condom, which addresses the important issue of safe sex through the story of one couple’s journey dealing with the consequences of unprotected sex.
Oun – an ambassador of Marie Stopes, an NGO working for female reproductive rights around the globe – released this single to coincide with the organisation’s campaign named Power of Choice.
Now Oun, in collaboration with Baramey Productions, is focused on his goal of building awareness of Cambodian music in the region.
“I want to remind everyone . . . don’t give excessive value to that which is far away. Most Cambodians love to heap praise on foreign artists.”
This has been a challenge for Oun, who wishes to emphasise the potential for Cambodian music to go abroad if given proper support and backing by fans at home.
“A Laura Mam song on which I featured, Can’t Ever Have Enough of Dancing, went viral in Thailand. When Thai audiences viewed it, liked it, shared it, only then did it start gaining more popularity in Cambodia."
“We need to work together with the industry to take original music produced in Cambodia to the next level.”
Oun aims to continue collaborating with other Khmer artists to help build the profile of local musicians. For now, he is already working on his next album and optimistic about the future. “Original music is a revolution, so keep supporting.”