Traveling around Asia last year, I found myself at the mercy of record shop clerks more often than not: both a wonderful and terrifying experience. I'm barely a bilinguist of the latin-based variety, and thus incapable of even piercing the surface of a language like Khmer in any meaningful way. Sure, I mumbled through the pleasantries and proceeded to judge a few CDs by their covers upon entering a store, but just couldn't shake the sheer helplessness I felt... grabbing anything would be a total shot in the dark. Then I realized how ridiculous the situation really was: this person behind the counter knows all of the music in here, and I can't even read the bloody title. It only made sense to get their opinion, right? But, oh, how to ask the right questions.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, I terrorized a few teenage girls working in a music store with my silly questions about old film stars, what's on the radio, what's underground, rock music, hip-hop, dance music, rap, and traditional tunes. They giggled at me nonstop as I tried to ask if this CD was better than that one, and made them repeat an artist's name about 30 times so I could at least get a phonetic spelling down. I scored tons of great old film tunes, and took home a CD full of MP3s that the clerks recommended, so that I could really know what the Cambodian kids were into. The cover of this mysterious MP3 CD is pictured in the top left, no other information was provided.
So what do the Khmer kids prefer? Apparently they dig schmaltzy love duets, gratuitous key changes and all (think Richard Marx and understated Mariah Carey) along with heroic and uplifting sentimental rock ballads. Bleh. C'mon, Cambodian teenagers must listen to something between this and clubby, overripe techno. Where's the edge?
And then I found these 5 gems (and a cover of Nelly's "Dilemma", but I'll spare you that one), which renewed my faith in the youth of Cambodia.
No artist info, no track titles (aside from the obvious cover of "Final Countdown"), but you can look at the album cover above and try to match a picture to the music. My money's on the badass b-girl to the far left. The tunes are mostly bratty femme rap over dancey poppy hip-hop beats, quirky samples, and an occasional male vocal. Ladies of the Siem Reap record shop, I salute you.
MP3 downloads: Kim Leakena & DJ Lux - Chang Sdap Bot Pleng Noe Neaq | Kim Leakena & DJ Lux - Chakralek DJ | Kim Leakena - Proh Anjaret | Kim Leakena - Chuep Neak Mien Vibak Snae | Pich Sophea - Final Countdown
If you happen to have any info about this artist or these songs, feel free to school me in the comments section.
More on Khmer hip-hop here.