Laura Mam is one of Cambodia’s biggest pop stars, but she wasn’t born or raised in the country. She’s American, and even though both of her parents are originally from Cambodia, she hardly spoke a word of the country’s language, Khmer, when she first became famous there.
Laura’s fame happened almost by accident. It all started 10 years ago, at her mother’s house in San Jose, Calif. It was Christmas Eve and Laura was home after graduating with a degree in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.
“I had been writing music and my mom was kind of interested in what I was doing. I think I went to her room and I was playing this song. I was like ‘Hey mom, could you write lyrics in Khmer on top of it?’ ” Laura says.
There was only one problem: Laura’s mother, Thida, had never written lyrics before.
“The first song, I didn’t understand what I was doing and I didn’t know how to rhyme,” Thida says.
But Thida gave it a try, and it turned out she had a knack for it. They called the song “Pka proheam rik popreay” which means “morning flower is beautifully blossoming.” A few months later, Laura and some friends made a music video and uploaded the song to YouTube, not expecting much.
Follow the story at https://www.npr.org/2020/02/29/810155936/across-languages-and-generations-one-family-is-reviving-cambodian-original-music