Cambodian artists plan French takeover

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Local artists Vuthea, AGO (pictured) and Srey Leak of KlapYaHandz records are soon to be involved in an international music event in the french capital, putting Camboian music on the map. Photo supplied

Vuthea, AGO and Srey Leak – three popular local artists from hip-hop label KlapYaHandz Records that have earned millions of views on YouTube – will showcase their talent alongside French artists in a concert in Paris later this month.

The event aims to celebrate the special relationship between France and Cambodia. It is being organised by Helene Malterre and Dara Thong – two young Cambodians who hope to strengthen ties between the Kingdom and the European nation.

The event is being planned in partnership with the Samaki Kohn Khmer association.

“Music is a universal language. People around the world are always on the lookout for new music, new tastes. We have seen lots of increase in interest from the West in the Cambodian music scene, especially music coming out of KlapYaHandz,” Malterre told The Post.

The evening will begin with performances from new artists. French-Cambodian singer Khena will follow Parisian piano artist Falcom. Then the stage will be taken by Vuthea, Srey Leak and AGO. To cap the night off, a DJ will spin some tunes.

France and Cambodia have always had a special relationship, Thong tells The Post, adding that he aims to strengthen the relationship between the two nations and promote a positive image of Cambodia.

Malterre and Thong discovered the Cambodian music scene while on a trip around the Kingdom. Since then, they have worked to promote Cambodian artists in France – thus, Sabay Events was born.

Dara decided it would be a good idea to hold a concert in France after he met KlapYaHandz founder Sok Visal, a Cambodian who fled the country during the Khmer Rouge regime.

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Event organisers Helene Malterre and Dara Thong say the event will capitalise on the increasing interest from the west in the Cambodian music scene. Photo supplied

In 2000, Visal started mixing Cambodian songs from the 60s with hip hop tunes using computer software, which eventually led to the creation of KlapYaHandz in 2005.

Mostly relying on YouTube, KlapYaHandz has built itself a reputation and now turns in a modest profit, Visal says. The organisation gives artists a platform to showcase their creativity to the world.

KlapYaHandz – which has more than 390,000 subscribers and more than 90 million views on YouTube – is composed of 10 singers and rappers. For their first show in Paris, Visal says they will be bringing the audience a mix of modern and traditional Cambodian sounds.

“This event was and still is really meaningful for me as I wanted to get closer to the Cambodian community in France,” says Malterre, who worked with the KlapYaHandz team in 2019.

She believes it is crucial to create new avenues to connect Cambodia and France through music.

“When Dara first came up with the idea for this event, Vuthea, AGO and Srey Leak were his first choice,” Malterre says, noting that this is the first time the artists will perform outside Asia.

Inspired by his favorite artists Sinn Sisamouth and Michael Jackson and with a uniquely gentle voice, Vuthea composes his own music. From hip hop to acoustic pop-rock, the 25-year-old singer and songwriter from Banteay Meanchey province has garnered over 30 million views on YouTube with hits like Kromom 3 Styles and Oun Sas Ey.

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The Cambodian artists attending the event already have a huge following, with over 50 million YouTube views racked up between AGO and Vuthea alone. Photo supplied

Srey Leak, who hails from a family of farmers in Battambang province, has been passionate about singing since childhood and began performing in 2010.

Born and raised in Phnom Penh, 28-year-old AGO joined KlapYaHandz in 2014. His single Sday Snea Aphorp – a remake of a 60s classic from Sinn Sisamouth – has been viewed over 20 million times on YouTube.

“AGO’s music is clearly influenced by classic songs like those of Sinn Sisamouth, who has the power to make everyone dance, no matter their age or race,” Malterre says.

Together with manager Mut Taingvitou, the artists will be leaving Phnom Penh on February 26 and landing in Paris the next day.

“We are expecting 600 people!” says Malterre.

That show may not be happening for another week, but Malterre and Thong are already planning their next event in Europe.

“We want to bring more Cambodian artists to international stages,” Malterre says.

“We may have been raised in different parts of the world, but we all share the same Cambodian culture. We want to contribute to the emergence of the Cambodian music scene abroad.”

The movie In the Life of Music, co-directed by Visal and Cambodian-American Caylee So, will be shown on February 29.

Starting at 8:30pm on Friday, the concert will be held at Galerie VII (formerly known as 7 Spirits) on 7 Street Sainte Helene in Paris 13. Tickets can be purchased online at www.weezevent.com/klapyahandz-concert-live-in-paris