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Breakin' Beats and Boundaries: Khmer Hip Hop

By: Charlotte Lancaster Posted: February-13-2008 in
Charlotte Lancaster

Previously reserved for Khmer karaoke, the Cambodian music video is being reshaped, redefined and taken to new heights as DJ Cream seeks to create an international platform from which to launch the emerging voices of Cambodia. "The goal," divulges Cream, "is to establish an audience and support base in diaspora Khmer communities proud of their heritage and the changing face of their home country." With the help of renowned French director OCM, this project not only aims to make history by being the first Cambodian music video to be internationally exported, it also endeavours to challenge the boundaries, limitations and perceptions of Khmer music.

Influenced by international media and internet sites such as YouTube, the emerging hip hop scene in Cambodia is fast recruiting a broad fan base as youths increasingly shed their restrictive, traditional layer creating a space for musical expression and experimentation. This project hopes to exemplify this trend by featuring the various elements of a hip hop video: B Boys (Break Boys), scantily clad women, seductive dancing, physical intimacy, rapping, fashion extravagance and ghetto realism. "This video could not have been shot two years ago," explains Cream, founder of Klap Ya Handz music label, "this is a first."

The Khmer Rap Boyz is a locally formed group who fuse established hip hop techniques with traditional music resulting in a distinct Khmer rap sound. Observing the Boyz, donned in LA fitted gangsta hats, baggy trousers, white pump Nikes, bling necklaces dancing around a pool with scantily clad women, it is easy to draw comparison with American artists. The Boyz may, awkwardly, emulate American counterparts and the footage may not revolutionise the standard rap music video, but in order to appeal to the larger market the group needs to be 'mainstream' until they can afford the luxury of breaking off. Hip hop is essentially a globally established brand with a basic formula that the Boyz, as well as hip hop communities' world over, imitate. Moreover, the Boyz and the video should be judged within a Cambodian context and considered ground breaking within a Cambodian perspective: two years ago, these women would never have agreed to be filmed dancing seductively while wearing a two piece outfit; two years ago, no producer or director would invest the time and finances into such a music video. One can't help be feeling the more exposed Cambodia is to the international music scene, the sooner these artists will lose the awkwardness and start owning the stage they have set for themselves.

Shift the focus from the exterior and you see other aspects that define their bold style and image; the song is about sexy girls and love not politics, revolution, guns or violence; and the beat is taken from a 1950s traditional Khmer song and is not an American imitation. "We want the video to not only challenge popular perception but for it to act as a postcard of Cambodia; that is, to show off the beauty of the women, buildings and people while highlighting social issues such as poverty," clarifies Cream, "as we want to produce the first Cambodian music video worthy of MTV and Channel V it is important we get it right".

View Photos of the Video Shoot


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