Staying true to one’s self as a pop musician is a real conundrum. How is that even possible when so much of the music industry is about image, popularity and creating a mythical aura around the biggest stars so that when a stadium full of tens of thousands of fans gathers to worship and venerate them it doesn’t come off as totally absurd or obscene?
Now, as if that wasn’t hard enough, how do you maintain your authenticity when you’re the granddaughter of the legendary Sin Sisamouth – the king of Khmer music and the most iconic and recognisable voice from Cambodia’s 1960’s golden-age?
Despite her vaunted musical ancestry, KlapYaHandz artist Sin Setsochhata’s reluctance to join the music industry was genuine and she spent years trying to avoid the fate that was seemingly foreordained for her.
Finally, after the passing of her father and then the tragic death of her brother at just 37 years old – both of them noted Khmer singers with hundreds of performances and numerous records over the years – the calling just became too loud and she felt she had no choice but to set aside her reservations and take up her family’s legacy by embarking on a music career of her own and making her debut earlier this year.
Setsocchata says that her family’s musical legacy has been her biggest obstacle and her biggest motivator both at once, but now a year into her debut she’s thankful that it gave her this opportunity and she doesn’t regret her decision one bit.
“I was told by my dad that I can sing and I always liked singing from a very young age, but I never considered it as a career choice. I just wasn’t motivated enough to do it. Sadly, the loss of my brother, Sethakol Sin, is what drove me to think about giving singing a shot,” Setsocchata tells The Post.
Setsocchata says that while many record labels had contacted her and expressed interest in working with her in the past she chose KlapYaHandz because she was already a big fan and she liked the originality and creativity of their artists and the positive artist-focused approach they take to producing records.
“It just feels like someplace I can call home,” Setsochhata says.
Of course, from the moment she debuted she’s always been known as “Sin Sisamuth’s granddaughter” and people use it so frequently she says it feels as if the phrase was her personal pronoun or first name so as much as she might like to blaze her own trail in the world of music there’s only so much she can realistically do to differentiate herself from her grandfather, father or brother.
“Don’t get me wrong, it is not a bad thing to be recognised as a member of my family. However, it is bothersome and I really do want people to know and recognise me as Sin Setsochhata and for the music that I’m making because I am an artist on my own regardless of my background.
When asked if she had any trouble staying true to her chosen musical genre or if she was tempted to follow trends, she notes that she grew up listening to the “Khmer pop” music of the 60’s and early 70’s which was also heavily influenced by western music.
In fact, she points out, virtually all modern forms of pop music – blues, R&B, rock and roll, hip-hop and the rest – were first pioneered by African-Americans in the 20th century before being popularised by others and then spread to all corners of the globe and differentiating further into other forms in the process.
“But music is ultimately free and open and any kind of music can be made by any sort of person no matter what country they are from. I would personally love to be known as a Cambodian R&B or blues or soul artist but the trend in modern music is to infuse everything with hip-hop, so I’ve adapted to that, but I try to strike a balance,” she says.
Sesochhata says that she tries not to be too pessimistic or cynical and she freely admits that writing a song that is perfectly suited to your own preferences – and that few other people like or hear as a result – would be far more frustrating than satisfying
“Giving up too much of what I actually enjoy musically would weaken my music and undermine my identity as an artist, but not presenting it in a way that has broad enough appeal would limit the size of my audience and my career success, so there has to be a balance. But whenever people think of R&B, blues or soul music in Cambodia, my goal is to be included on those lists,” she says.
Setsochhata says there’s nothing wrong with chasing trends if that’s what someone finds fulfilling or it’s financially rewarding, but from her observation that isn’t how most successful artists establish themselves or find fame. They do it by having their own voice and identity, first and foremost.
“You can’t please everyone. There may not be mass appeal to everything I record, but if just a few of the right people appreciate it that’d be enough for me,” she says.
Setsochhata debuted with two Khmer songs – “Truth” and “No Regrets” – and one English song, “Believe.” All three of them are based on her life experiences and she says they come from her heart because she wrote them while she was in the process of healing after losing her father and brother, especially “Truth”, which is her favourite.
“Everything I wrote is either what I’ve been through personally or from people I’m close with. I love spending time talking and listening to people and their stories. I love to interpret feelings into song lyrics. Behind every word in my lyrics, there’s a story,” she says.
Of course, death is a part of everyone’s life and everyone will lose many people over the course of their lives and the only way for anyone to avoid that misfortune is through the greater misfortune of dying young themselves, so she wrote the song with the hope that it would help people heal and realise the truth that death is a part of life and you can’t experience one without the other, which is why the title of that first three song EP was “Realisation.”
Setsochhata says she doesn’t have a song writing process per se and how long it takes her to finish composing something varies greatly depending on her mood.
“While writing a song I might lose the spark of inspiration that got me started or I find another inspiration and maybe start from scratch again. It can take me an hour or weeks and months. The song ‘Truth’ took a whole year until I was satisfied with the lyrics,” she says.
Setsochhata says she’s excited about the growth she’s seen in the Cambodian music industry and the potential for Cambodian artists to find fans across the region and given the reality of our modern interconnected and networked world these days even global success is possible if the right artist or song gets exposure at the right time.
“I am sure Cambodian artists will have a growing presence on the international stage over this next decade and we’ll be competing in the international market in no time. And I hope I will be participating in that as well,” she says.
As the say – there’s no time like the present – and just last month Setsochhata was featured in an online article by the legendary music magazine Rolling Stone. They did a full interview with her about her iconic grandfather’s influence on her music along with other aspects of her career.
“As an artist, I always want to see growth in both the music industry and in society. I always feel obligated to contribute because artists play a huge role in shaping and influencing the attitudes and opinions of the public.
“Personally, I will keep on improving and growing while on my musical journey and I hope to see more talented people become part of the industry here who can bring new sounds and ideas to the table while making a living doing what they love,” Setsochhata says.
Right now – with live music still basically shut down nationwide due to the pandemic – Setsochhata is working on recording cameo appearances on a few songs by other KlapYaHandz artists like Ruth Ko and Vi70 and she’s also currently working on her next EP, which should be out early next year.
For more information on Sin Setsochhata check out the KlapYaHandz website: https://klapyahandz.com/Or find her on Facebook: @sinsetsochhataofficial