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Rapper Wakes Up Stifled Generation in Cambodia

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo California rapper wakes up stifled generation in Cambodia By Chris Decherd / Associated
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2001
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      California rapper wakes up stifled generation in Cambodia

      By Chris Decherd / Associated Press

      PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodians tend to treat the
      genocidal Khmer Rouge regime as a period to be forgotten:
      School textbooks barely mention it, popular literature
      glosses over it, parents are often reluctant to delve into
      their private horrors. Now, a brash new rap album is
      breaking the taboos by telling young Cambodians about the
      darkest chapter of their country's history. At parties, in
      bars and in homes around Phnom Penh, the album has
      teen-agers buzzing about songs on death, forced labor and
      broken families.

      The End'n is Jus the Beginnin -- written by a
      Cambodian-American -- reflects on the years in the 1970s
      when 1.7 million people died in the communist Khmer Rouge's
      attempt to turn Cambodia into a large agrarian commune.

      The 17-song album was recorded in a garage in Long Beach,
      Calif., by Prach Ly, a 21-year-old who has never returned to
      Cambodia since emigrating to the United States in 1983 at
      the age of 4.

      He says he never envisioned the music having an impact in

      "I was very surprised at how big this got. When I did it, it
      was just a demo, to pass around to a few friends," says
      Prach Ly in a telephone interview from Long Beach.

      "The lyrics, the message had been inside me a long time, and
      I wanted to release it," he says, adding that he is hoping a
      record company will help him record the songs in a studio.

      Three of the songs are in the Khmer language and the rest
      are in English interspersed with Khmer (pronounced Kh-maai).
      "When I first heard this it was, 'Wow! This is exciting,' "
      says Nguon Phan Sophea, 24, who owns the Galaxy CD shop in
      Phnom Penh. He says he heard the CD last year at the home of
      a friend who had bought it in Long Beach, where many
      Cambodian immigrants live.

      He borrowed the CD, made 50 copies, designed a
      yellow-and-green CD cover, called it Cambodian Rap and put
      the discs up for sale for $2 in his shop.

      There are no laws protecting intellectual property rights in
      Cambodia and virtually all of the music sold here is

      Nguon says he has sold nearly 300 copies of the CD and let
      Cambodia's largest music store, CD World, burn copies from
      his. CD World has sold more than 400 copies, store manager
      Chy Sila says.

      The album has caught on among the trendy urban youth of the
      capital, who often have access to MTV and English-language

      One verse in the Khmer language song "Born" says: "Power,
      property, girls, money. What's the use of them, if
      relatives, children, spouses, families are split up..."

      The English-language track "In 1975" goes: "Families
      separated by sex and ages; We worked for food, and got kinda
      hazy; Put us in camp that we called the cages."

      "I remember they shot him, shot point blank in front of his
      children ... I can't maintain. I'm going insane. Hell on
      earth, it can't get any worse."

      The Khmer Rouge was ousted in 1979 after a four-year rule.
      Sociologists attribute many Cambodians' reluctance to dwell
      on those years to the Cambodian Buddhist philosophy of
      forgetting and forgiving.

      During its rule, the Khmer Rouge banned all art, literature
      and music that did not praise the communist party and its
      leader, Pol Pot.

      Most performing artists, painters, doctors, lawyers and
      teachers were killed. People who wore glasses were
      identified as intellectuals and executed.

      "They said intellectual people were not needed in the field
      ... books burned, schools turned into barns," say the lyrics
      of "In 1975."

      Creativity was so systematically crushed that even 25 years
      later, little new work is produced. Recording companies
      recycle old love songs. Literature and filmmaking are
      nonexistent. Art consists mainly of generic, commercial
      paintings of Angkor temples and "apsaras," or celestial

      Sophoann Sope Hul, 37, one of Cambodia's best-known disc
      jockeys, says a "deep fear" inhibits self-expression.

      "Everyone wants to express themselves like these guys (Prach
      Ly and his band), but they're afraid," he says. "In
      Cambodia, no one would dare say what those guys say. It's

      "These songs are a step forward," he says.

      Some people hope that Prach Ly's music will kick-start the
      creativity of a numb nation. A 23-year-old disc jockey known
      as NCK says he and his friends want to produce similar rap.

      "We want to bring it to the new generation, and talk about
      reality, talk about society," he says.

      Dan Clore

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