Khmer rap: the next episode

(previous posts here and here.)

I just got off the phone with Helene Granqvist at the production company behind Papa's Kappsäck, Good World. She gave me another bunch of interesting evidence in the Khmer hip-hop puzzle but it's still far from complete - next I'm going to try emailing the man I suspect (and Helene confirmed) is the "spider in the web", Sok Visal/Cream.

One thing she did ask me to mention is that the show is currently up for renewal and that if there's to be a second season it would be great if they got as good ratings as possible. Us non-metered viewers are probably most helpful in that regard by watching the show streamed over the internet, early and often. Here's the next episode, about the Asian underground scene in London and India.

So, what is the verdict on the social position of hip-hop in Cambodia, which was our chief outstanding question? Well, Helene only saw a fraction of it (of course) and wasn't there as a researcher but as a filmmaker on a tight schedule, but she seems to be a fairly keen observer and gave me a bunch of input.

The hip-hop scene is fairly small and difficult to access (not being regularly available in record stores) and is indeed fairly "underground" in the sense that most Cambodians aren't immediately aware of it. That it's dynamic and growing is unquestionable, though, and there seem to be hip hop fans everywhere. Mostly, and this I thought was possibly the most interesting revelation, in the countryside - hip-hop is way bigger in small towns than in the capital. I think that promises very well for the future cultural attachment of the style in Cambodia.

As suspected, the majority of the hip-hop scene (both audience and artists) comes from a fairly well-educated upper-middle-class. Cream, for instance, works as an AD in advertising and is doing fairly well off it. He is not a deportee but a returnee, having returned with his family from France in 1994 after the country opened up. In conversation, he tends to come across as a very modern and well-spoken individual, which indeed is also the impression you get from his web presence.

The biggest star in the clique is Kdep, but one of the more fascinating characters is Aping, who doesn't conform to the standard pattern. He grew up extremely poor in the shanty towns around Phnom Penh, lost his father (and one eye) before he was eight and has managed to pull himself up and put his kids through school via his hip-hop career. To me he seems to be the one with the charisma to break through to a wider audience, and Helene definitely confirmed that view.

Despite the horrors of the Khmer Rouge dictatorship (where not least practically all of the country's musicians were killed) and the ill-functioning, corrupt civil society, Helene noticed a strong sense of optimism and belief in the future. It's remarkable, I think, how such a completely broken oral tradition as the Cambodian pop music one has led to such remarkable new developments yet with such an interest in the past and the artists who are no longer present.

Well, the picture is clarifying a bit but short of a proper ethnomusicological research trip the best thing I can do next, I think, is to send Cream an e-mail. Let's see what he has to say...

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