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Singer Puts American Twist on Cambodian Classics

  • Brian Calvert

More and more Cambodian-Americans are finding their own voice in art and music. Add to that list singer-songwriter Bochan Huy, who grew up in Oakland, California, and has just released her first album, Full Monday Moon.

Bochan Huy is putting an American twist on a Cambodian classic. The original song, “I Am 16,” comes from the heyday of Cambodian rock-the 1960s and 1970s, before the Khmer Rouge.

Huy’s version, though, is something entirely new.

“I kind of describe ‘Chnam Oun Dop Pram Mouy’ as sort of like a new culture. It’s a melting pot of everything that I’ve absorbed: from living in Oakland, from being Cambodian, and from being American. It’s Cambodian-American,” said Huy.

The song comes from her first album, Full Monday Moon, which she has just completed. Huy says she wrote the album after the death of her father, a refugee and a musician who loved the classics.

“I decided to do the album because I realized after he passed away - he was a big musical mentor in my whole life - that the only way that I felt that he was still around was to do music," Huy added. "That was something the Khmer Rouge did not take away from him. He was able to bring that from Cambodia to here.”

Huy produced the album under an independent label in a New York studio. It is a departure from much of Cambodia’s own music scene, which favors cover versions of the classics and little experimentation.

“I think it’s because so many Cambodians have held on to that generation, you know. That’s when things were good. It was before the Khmer Rouge war," Huy explained. "And so it’s going to be a challenge to kind of get people to let go of that and go, ‘OK, you know I think we’re ready to move on.’ I think people are ready, they are ready, and that’s why I hope people will give ‘Full Monday Moon’ a try, you know. Yeah, the whole album’s not in Cambodian, but some is, you know, and I sing of struggles related to being Cambodian. And who’s to say nowadays what is Cambodian and what isn’t. I mean, we’ve all landed in all parts of the world, and I think what Cambodian is is that we’ve landed in all parts of the world, we’ve been able to kind of adapt, adjust and re-create, and we’re forming something new for ourselves. And that’s to me what it means to be Cambodian.”

Huy is now in Cambodia for the first time since 1999, to promote the album. And find new inspiration. It’s the end of one journey, and perhaps the beginning of another.

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