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Manoa 16.1 (2004) 73-82
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Art of faCt:
An Interview with praCh
Called by Asiaweek "Cambodia's first rap star," praCh uses his music and lyrics to connect younger and older generations, Cambodia and America. Born in Cambodia in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime, he and his family left when he was an infant. They eventually settled in the large Cambodian community in Long Beach, California. In 2000, when he was twenty-one, he recorded his first album in his parents' garage for the Khmer New Year celebration. Without his knowledge, the CD made its way across the Pacific to Cambodia, and a pirated version—which omitted his name—became the number-one album in the country. His work combines traditional Khmer musical forms and instrumentation with the hip-hop beat and unflinching directness of American street rap. He has been featured in Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, and New York Post and on Frontline, commercial television, and Voice of America. This interview was conducted by telephone in September 2003.
SM Can you talk about the meaning of your name in Khmer?
P The meaning of praCh is "advisor to the king" or "person who talks a lot." But my parents didn't name me praCh because of that. The area where I was born was called Veal Srae K'prach: farmland of K'prach. I'm from a big family. I have three brothers and four sisters—four girls, four boys—and I'm the seventh child. They didn't know what to name me when I was born at the camp place, so they just named me praCh.
SM You were born after the Khmer Rouge period, is that right?
P I was born in 1979 , near Battambang. The Vietnamese had invaded already. It was chaotic then, the time of confusion. No one knew where they were going or where they were headed. But my mom was pregnant with me. She had me in a hut. Later, my parents went back to Cambodia and videotaped the tree I was born under, but the hut's no longer there. [End Page 73]
SM Do you have any memory of the border?
P Actually, I was so young, the only thing I can remember is waterfalls. And I remember a bridge, made out of rope, but it seemed more like a dream, not even a memory. But when I asked my parents about it, they said it was an actual place. That was when we were crossing to the Thai border and I was an infant.
SM In your song, "Welcome," you talk about arriving in the U.S.: "soon our feet hits the ground,/my mom busted in tears./words can't describe,/a moment so rare./and right by her side,/my father was there./staring at the skies,/hold'n each other./realize we survive the genocide."
P That I remember. That is probably the first thing I remember clearly. It's strange. I remember on the plane trip they asked if we wanted peanuts. My parents and the other people were joking about the food. Oh, they're going to give us these bags of peanuts, why don't they give us banh chhev? And then, when the plane landed, they opened the door hatch, and I remember seeing my mom crying and my dad holding her. He said, "From this point on, it can only get better." They praised the Buddha, and they held each other.
There was hope for us. I was too young to understand what was going on, but now I do understand it. I'm glad that I remember that time.
I saw families that were kissing the ground. Because finally they made it. It seemed like we had just escaped from hell. I don't mean Cambodia is hell, but it just seemed like there was total darkness then, and finally we made it out into the light.
SM How did you end up in Long Beach?
P I was in Florida from 1983 until 1987 , in the...