Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vartey Ganiva: telling village tales with the power of punk

Vartey Ganiva: telling village tales with the power of punk

Varty (left) and her sister Vartey Sochetra (centre), with guitarist Sok Vichey (right) and drummer “India” in the front yard of their home.
Varty (left) and her sister Vartey Sochetra (centre), with guitarist Sok Vichey (right) and drummer “India” in the front yard of their home. Hong Menea

Vartey Ganiva: telling village tales with the power of punk

The home of sisters Varty and Vartey Sochetra, and the latter’s husband Timon Seibel, doesn’t appear at first glance too different from a typical country house.

Banana trees abound in the front lot and outdoor seating surrounds a dining table. But this house in Kandal’s Prek Lvea village is the de facto headquarters of Yab Moung Records, a primarily punk and metal label that is helping young Cambodian bands push a different sound out to the public.

It is also a refuge for musicians looking to relax in the front yard, record music in the back room studio, and for poor kids and teenagers looking for distraction – and maybe a music lesson here and there.

On a recent afternoon, 12-year-old “India” and Sok Vichey, 17, both of whom grew up at the Steung Meanchey dumpsite, were hanging out and practicing music at the house. Vichey is the lead guitarist of Doch Chkae, a death metal band from the dumpsite that has made waves since forming, winning the Battle of the Bands competition at Otres Beach in 2016 and being featured in international press.

He is also the guitarist for Vartey Ganiva, a new project featuring the older Sochetra sister on vocals, Damani “Danzo” Kelly on bass, and the youngster “India” on drums. Varty is the main lyricist, collaborating with her sister to write songs promoting the strength of women and criticising the country’s patriarchal traditions.

“The songs in Cambodia always have the girls brokenhearted and wanting to go to die,” Varty says. “And the boys just go have another one [lover]. One hundred million songs like this . . . That’s why we want to change to punk rock. We want to change the girls’ feelings.”

Varty first got involved with music when she began taking guitar lessons from Vichey. Instead of teaching, Varty jokes, he would focus on his own compositions. “Sister, I have a new original song, can you make the lyrics?” he would ask her. “I couldn’t study because I needed to focus on the lyrics,” she says. After contributing to a Doch Chkae song, Varty then began working with her sister, penning lyrics inspired mostly by what they saw around them in the village.

In one track with a fuzzy ‘90s guitar sound called Pdey Chongrai – or Evil Husband – Vartey criticises a lazy spouse who lies around drinking and doing drugs, or else sleeps around. “Oh, my husband! You have f— it all up,” she screams.

Sok Vichey practicing guitar outside of Yab Moung Studios.
Sok Vichey practicing guitar outside of Yab Moung Studios. Hong Menea

“This is a true story. Often I hear violence over here,” Vartey says, pointing behind her home. “I listen and I start writing the lyrics. I don’t know if she [the woman next door] knows. But it’s not only her — many couples are like this and if the women hear it they will be reminded of themselves.”

While Evil Husband has a straight ahead punk sound, Vartey Ganiva also slows things down to showcase her soaring voice. In Yerng Ker Chea Sattrey, or We Are Aware, a sludge-like guitar line gives way to the bouncey and upbeat verses praising the strength of Khmer women.

While wanting to stay true to the spirit of punk, Vartey is aware that the more melodic songs are an easier sell in Cambodia.

“Some people don’t want that [punk] style. But I’m so proud to have some people [who are fans].”

Neither of the sisters were originally attracted to metal or punk, but repeated exposure to performances by bands like Doch Chkae eventually changed their minds. Vichey’s conversion, though, was instantaneous. He saw the band Sliten6ix, who also record at Yab Moung Studios, perform at Show Box in Phnom Penh and was hooked.

“When you’re angry you can beat a drum and do whatever you want,” he says. “I really wanted to do that. I searched YouTube for so long and looked up distortion sounds for metal.”

Even Vartey’s mother, I Chantha, who originally discouraged her daughter from becoming a singer and worried that screaming would hurt her voice, is now a super fan of her daughters’ project. She attends every show and travelled to a gig in Siem Reap to support the band. “My mom has an open mind,” Vartey says.“She’s a really cool woman.”

“My mom is like my friend,” Varty chimes in. “We share everything together and also go out together.”

Despite having grown up in a village environment, the influence of their parents on their unorthodox style and way of life is evident. Their father, Sou Sochetra, is a painter, and his art is on nearly every wall. Chantha, the mother, worked as a caregiver for NGOs and continually takes in children in need of a good home, adding to the atmosphere of a creative refuge at the house.

Kelly, the band’s bassist, thinks the setting of the studio contributes to a raw and lo-fi sound across the label.

“Most of the Yab Moung musicians are from this small village and were the only ones doing this around here so I think geographically, it’s created a rule-breaking and unique sound because nobody has ever questioned how it’s done or how they are playing,” he says.

The band is aware of the financial limitations of what they are doing but they hope to be able to eventually release a full-length record. For the moment, they are releasing songs when they are ready online. Six are fully composed, while 10 have the instrumentals laid out. Even though the group is just six months old, already Varty is thinking about the next evolution: an all-girl punk band.

“The girls around here are all really sad. They think the men are the highest and the girls are lower,” she says. “We don’t think that.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Second Hungary business forum set for H2

    Cambodia has asked Hungary to provide GSP- (Generalised System of Preferences) Plus facilities for when the Kingdom sheds its least-developed country (LDC) label, as the two countries prepare to hold a second business forum in the second half (H2) of this year to expand trade

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • Nearly 50 states join Kun Khmer Federation, all set for training

    In a little over a week, the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) has accepted membership requests from 20 new nations, in addition to the exiting 29. The sudden influx of international recognition stems from the Kingdom’s successful introduction of Kun Khmer to the 32nd Souheast Asian (

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports

  • CPP sets out five primary strategic goals for 2023-28

    The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on January 29 concluded its two-day extraordinary congress, setting the party’s priority goals for 2023-2028. The ruling party’s congress was attended by more than 3,000 members from across the Kingdom, including the members of the permanent and central committees,