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SANG SOK SEREY——You Are Not Alone: Cambodia's Rap Songs Empowering Women

Interview / Asia Hundreds

Empowering women through rap songs

Homma: Next, could we talk about "Bad Girl," the rap song you released in late 2019? In it, are you singing about the struggles faced by a girl?

Serey: It's about my own struggles.

Homma: In Cambodia, are there traditional norms about female behavior, dictating what a woman should do or say?

Serey: Yes, and it's considered bad to not conform to those standards. But what I wanted to convey in my song is that it's really not as bad as people think. Many people take a look at my personality and attitude, and make a judgment about me. But no one is perfect, right? I am embracing this when I rap in the song that "I am not God" and "Imma Bad Girl." [Laughs]

I like loose clothing. I choose to wear loose clothes because I find them more comfortable. I am the way I am, so why should I have to wear close-fitting clothes simply in order to make myself appear girly, to make myself look the kind of "feminine" style that people deem right? If we can be stronger inside, we won't be dragged down by negative thinking. By growing stronger, we gain confidence. Everyone should have the right to develop their talents freely and do what they want; I think this is best for us as human beings. In order that anyone can express himself or herself, I want to share this message through my rap songs and motivate people.

"If I Don't Rap" is a song about the men who say that women shouldn't rap. In the song, I ask: "If you are able to rap, how come I can't? You wanna drag women down, that's why you don't let us rap." It's a funny rap where I am politely responding to those kinds of comments by men.

Homma: Is it tough being a female rapper in Cambodia? To go back to what I asked before, is this because there are "traditional" norms for how women should behave?

Serey: It was probably tough before. But I've been lucky because I always have people supporting me. Long ago, we had to follow our seniors and conform to the culture that had been around for a long time, and women were often told what was best for them. But by striving to create things that even the people who defend those conventions can recognize as meaningful, their negative attitude has finally started to fade away.

Homma: In order to improve your rapping, have you taken part in rap battles and contests in Cambodia?

Serey: In the past, I have taken part in freestyle rap battles at The Cool Lounge,*6 a venue run by Tiny Toones. But because there was too big a gap between my rap skills and those of the younger competitors, I was asked to take part as a judge instead of as a challenger, so I then lost my motivation. [Laughs]

*6 The Cool Lounge was founded to employ and train Tiny Toones graduates and to achieve sustainable ways of supporting children. The facilities included a space serving food and drink, a dance studio, and a recording studio. It opened in Phnom Penh in 2016 but closed in 2019.

Homma: I can see why. [Laughs] Last year, I went to check out a few record shops in Phnom Penh. When I couldn't find any Cambodian hip-hop artists' CDs, I asked a member of staff, who told me to listen to the music on YouTube. What platforms are available for people who like hip-hop in Cambodia? Is going to events like parties or gigs the best thing for them to do?

Serey: There are various live music events but finding them is difficult. Right now, I am thinking about making something like a rap battle TV show that can serve as a new platform for rappers to come together and demonstrate their talents. Lots of companies have put themselves forward as potential sponsors but I feel like I first need time to prepare both myself and a team to work with on the project. Nonetheless, I want to get this up and running as soon as possible, so I'll be sure to invite you to check it out when it's ready.

Homma: I look forward to seeing it! Lastly, could you please share your future plans?

Serey: Once I get back to Cambodia, I will release a new song, "IMMA ME," right away. I also plan to release a short film that I have made for a lottery operator called Khmer Moha Somnang. The company took an interest in the story and storyboard I wrote, and another film is also in the works. This first film was made to fit the music of a short new song with a message. The film is called Dream and I asked Voch to make the theme song, which is about how everyone has a dream. I made the film to inspire viewers to think about bullying and about what women can do. We plan to continue making things with the support of this corporation. I hope there is an opportunity someday to show our work to everyone in Japan.

Homma: Wow, so you're also making short films now! The stories you shared today have really encouraged me. Thank you.

A photo of Serey and Homma

[On February 14, 2020 at mass×mass Kannai Future Center]

Interviewer: HOMMA Junko
Junko Homma starts her research on Cambodian rap and the traditional poetry form in the Cambodian literature history under the Master's Program at the Graduate School of Global Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies from April 2020. Being an art related interpreter and translator for English and Cambodian language, she also joins in the collective of the Art Center Ongoing in Kichijoji, Tokyo.

Photo: HIRAIWA Toru