WOF 2018 Award Winner Laura Mam: She Sings and Celebrates Her Cambodian Heritage

Women of the Future

WOF 2018 Award Winner Laura Mam: She Sings and Celebrates Her Cambodian Heritage

Women of the Future Awards winner for the Arts and Culture category Laura Mam tells how music brought her back to the land of her forefathers. AWANI Review’s Ooi Zi Shan learns more about this singer, songwriter and entrepreneur, who gave up the trappings of California for the pull of Cambodia.

If you are not Cambodian, or a consumer of online streaming and downloads of electronic pop music, you might not have heard of Laura Mam. You would be all the poorer – musically and culturally at least.

However, thanks to the Women of the Future South East Asia awards held in Singapore recently, the name Laura Mam is no longer Cambodia’s best-kept secret.

The 32-year-old was named winner for the Arts and Culture category in the inaugural awards to showcase and acknowledge influential women who brings about positive change.

Mam is well known as Cambodia’s first independent artist, in a country where covers and imitations are a dominant feature in the music scene. 

"There was no original music in Cambodia at that time. We just copy people - we copy Vietnam, we copy everybody else, China, America - whoever you name it," says Mam. 

Born to Cambodian parents - who fled to the United States to escape war and poverty back home - Mam was brought up in San Jose and went to University of California, Berkeley.

It was then, following a bad breakup, that Mam decided to channel her emotions through music on YouTube. Like many artists who got their start from the video sharing platform, Mam said she simply wanted to 'share her music' at first.

One of her one original Khmer-language songs went viral and Mam became a hit in Cambodia. 

She was emboldened to push out more content following encouragement from her fans who expressed hopes to revive the once thriving Khmer music scene, before Pol Pot came to power in the 1970s, where many Cambodian artists perished in the killing fields.

“I wanted to know who I really am," says Mam. "When I first came to Cambodia, I found out that music companies here didn't allow the artistes to make their own music. So they discouraged the production of original music because they think the returns are not quick enough," she adds.

This led her to setting up Baramey Production - a Phnom Penh-based management company that aims to provide a platform for Cambodian artists to showcase their own music.

More than that, through Baramey - which was set up with the help of her mother Thida Buth - Mam hopes to nurture the growth of original Khmer music and help local artists kickstart their musical career and make a decent living out of it. 

Baramey manages up-and-coming Cambodian talents, including male-duo Kmeng Khmer, Kanhchna Chet, Mr. Oun and Rxthy.

“A lot of people can sing well, a lot of people can entertain well. But if you can be the artist to inspire someone, that impact would live on forever,” says Mam.

Speaking of the WOF award, Mam has one simple advice for young women in this region; to not to fall into the trap of stereotyping and just believe your own capabilities. 

“Go out there and let the world see what you can do. In doing so, people in our own country will come to believe that we are capable of achieving so much more," says Mam, adding that there is no need for Cambodians to compare themselves to international singing acts.

What's of importance is to persevere one's own cultural and musical heritage.