News / Arts & Entertainment

Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Strugglesi
X
Elizabeth Lee
August 21, 2014 12:43 PM
A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California, home to the largest Cambodian community outside that country.
Elizabeth Lee

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America.  Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.  Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years.

At 36 years old, Chanthy Sok, known to his fans as “CS,” has experienced more than most people in a lifetime.  The hip hop artist tells his story of pain and redemption through his music.

“My struggle was coming from a war-torn country, raised by a single mother who's probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, raising six kids living in somebody else’s living room.  That struggle was real," he explains.

From Cambodia to California

CS's mother brought the family to Long Beach, California, where he experienced poverty, bullying and prejudice. 

"It was basically the simple rules: go to school, stay away from trouble, if somebody hurt you look the other way, and get home," he says. "Those are the rules.  But when you leave the household, it’s a different story.  Those rules don’t apply.  You can’t run from the bullies forever.  You can’t run from racial slurs forever."

Without support from home or his mother, CS joined a gang, was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

"Ain't nobody love me at home so I felt like I’m going to go out whatever pain inflicted on me was going to be easy for me to inflict on other people, because my mama... that’s my life," he said tearfully, "though but I’m just glad that I got out of prison not the criminal not the tainted background not the tainted individual."

Wake up call

While in prison, CS says he had time to think and finally understood his mother’s struggles.  He also found a way to give voice to his pain through rap music.  More than a year after he was released, CS continued to work on his music, and ended up on the cover of an arts and entertainment newspaper in Los Angeles.

CS is one of a growing number of Cambodian Americans using hip hop to express themselves because it is the music of the urban communities where they grew up.

“We’re not saying we’re the best representation for Cambodians.  We’re not.  I think that I’m the best representation for the people who went through the struggle like me for the people who didn’t have a voice like me," CS says.

“A lot of these artists do their music as if it’s a sense of duty, as if this is their way to pay respect to the survivors to the victims of the genocide," says Seak Smith, who produced Cambodian Music Festival in Los Angeles this month, bringing together artists from around the United States.

"This is their piece of the voice that they can project to the world," she notes.

Mixed support

Smith says, as with any music of the younger generation, hip hop is not embraced by everyone in the community.

"There are older generation Cambodians here in the U.S. as well as in Cambodia who really don’t like the representation of Cambodian hip hop, feeling like it brings some kind of negative vibe to the culture and losing its tradition," she says.

In his songs, beyond talking about his own struggles, CS is working on infusing traditional Cambodian music into his work.  According to Smith, many artists not only want to get in touch with their roots but are trying to connect with musicians in the Cambodian Diaspora locally and around the world so the artists can have a voice again after surviving the horrors of genocide.  

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”