KlapYaHandz Sok Visal produces the young guard of Khmer music: Interview

by KhmerLife on May 08, 2019

KlapYaHandz Sok Visal produces the young guard of Khmer music: Interview Cambodia met Sok Visal, creator of KlapYaHandz label but also producer and now filmmaker. From the creation of his label to his first weapons in the film industry, Sok Visal told us his story and entrusted his future projects. Cambodia: You were born in Cambodia and grew up in France, how did you become a producer of a music label in Phnom Penh?

Sok Visal: I was born in Cambodia, but I fled the kingdom with my parents before the Khmer Rouge seized the capital. We fled to France where I lived from 1976 to 1989. After that, I went to live two years in the United States before returning to France, then I settled permanently in Cambodia in 1993. I was in a impasse in France, I wanted to live art but it was impossible, I found no way to enter a school of art or equivalent training. So I went to Cambodia where my parents were already settled. Back home, I started to get started in advertising. I worked for six years as an advisor for Total.

In 2000, I started to sampler, mix old Cambodian songs of the 60s on computer to put them with the hip-hop sauce. That’s how KlapYaHandz was born in 2005. Today we produce ten artists and animate a YouTube channel that works very well.

How important is YouTube to the fame of a music label?

This platform has earned us some fame, especially abroad, but YouTube does not want to work with Cambodia for copyright issues. So we earn some money through YouTube but not from Cambodia. However the platform allows us to make known and reveal some hits of our artists.

Have some of your artists become famous?

Some have gained a lot of notoriety in Cambodia and sometimes internationally. I think in particular of AGO which has worked very well abroad or Vuthea who made some hits. There are many others. But first we worked to make the label known. Our Youtube channel has allowed us to make ourselves known in the United States and France. From now on, we will try to work more the notoriety of the artists with promotional campaigns.

Can you explain what is the work of the hip-hop producer?

The job of producer, I learned it alone, by making instruments, beats then by posing voices, by mixing and mastering. Then there is work at the level of words, of the concept. It’s all a job that includes writing the song, the release of the clip but also the promotion of the piece, its distribution. As a producer, I take care of everything from start to finish.

What is your perception of the Cambodian music industry?

It’s been developing for two or three years. But still today, few people are willing to put money into music. Live music is not yet very common in Cambodia. Development is underway, do not worry, we take care of everything!

What could be the founding act of the Cambodian music industry?

I think the Cambodian music industry started when, not so long ago, some Cambodian artists wanted to stop copying Chinese and Thai music to create original content. Although few people talk about it, KlapYaHandz helped a lot. Even if at the beginning I just wanted to take back the old hits of the 60’s to remix them with lyrics and more modern instruments, I also had the project to encourage the artists to innovate, to create a new Khmer music scene.

The streaming platform set up by Smart has also helped us a lot. It allows artists to earn a little money that is reinvested to continue to create, to produce new content.

How does the Khmer identity that KlapYaHandz claims materialize?

Initially, I wanted to take the old Cambodian successes to make them rediscover to young artists. We must not forget that during the Khmer Rouge period, all the talented artists were murdered. In a way, we start from scratch. Little by little, new artists emerged and allowed the birth of a hip hop scene in Cambodia. First, they started by taking back the old Khmer hits by using more current styles before creating original content themselves.

Urban art has been slow to take root, but the movement is currently booming. How did that happen for hip hop in Cambodia?

It was in the 1990s that Cambodia began to open up to the world and came to the country sounds of rap from the United States or France, thanks to young people who had the chance to travel or who had of the family abroad. From this, Cambodians began to sampler, to imitate these artists. In 2005, when we started the KlapYaHandz adventure, there were already several independent artists who animated the hip-hop scene in Cambodia. What I wanted to do is bring them together and do something more important. Today it’s more K-Pop that takes over, but when I listen to this kind of music, I hear mostly instrus inspired by those that can be heard in the United States, but the singers are Korean, so for Asians it’s easier to identify with them.

Do you have projects in parallel with KlapYaHandz?

I am currently interested in cinema, which forces me to put the music aside for the moment. But this is not absolutely true since it is with the soundtracks of my films that I made some of my biggest hits! I had already attended a director friend on a shoot. Since then, I have made my own movies, but it’s hard to be profitable. However, I like being behind the camera and I am currently working on a new feature film project. It will be a psychological thriller that will be called In the Shade . We are mounting the teaser to present it and find funding for the filming which is planned next year.

Paul Vernois
Journalist Cambodia

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