Multi-lingual rapper and music producer Mehdi ‘12me’ Benabdessadok embarks on a very different Original Sessions on Sunday evening – a boat cruise and an all acoustic backing, with guitar and roneat. Leng Pleng dragged him away from preparations to ask a few questions.
It seems like you have been around Phnom Penh forever, but you only settled here in 2016, is that correct? What’s your Cambodian history, and how does it blend with your pre-Cambodia times?
My love story with this country started a little earlier, back in 2011. I came with my old French band to Phnom Penh for a concert at Chenla Theatre – and it was on fire! I loved the people and the art of Phnom Penh. I returned every year for small tours and finally in 2016 I moved here – I wanted to try to make music influenced by Khmer culture.
Rapping in French, English and Khmer – how do you approach that? Does the subject choose the language?
Not necessarily. My first concern is to be understood by the Khmer audience. On my first album in Cambodia, Samai Thmey, it was mostly French, I only tried to rap two or three verses in Khmer. The Cambodian flavour of the album came through the instrumentation, and with the help of great artists such as [rappers] Lisha and Mr Oun, because at the time I had been learning Khmer for only six months.
Making music here helped to break down my personal artistic barriers. For my second album Oh Kampuchea, I wasn’t scared to try new things, and I dared to rap one entire song in Khmer, Kromom Srok Khmer, which became my biggest hit here in Cambodia.
The Original Sessions are often have a very different feel to artists’ normal performances. Have you worked acoustically like this before?
I’ve worked with a few live bands in France, but trying a real all-acoustic version of my show is a first for me. I feel very excited because yes, it’s a different feel. I feel closer to the audience, and I am also very eager to hear the mix of percussion, guitar and the [traditional Cambodian xylophone] roneat on stage.
Working with people from different backgrounds is a big part of the Phnom Penh scene. You seem to bring different strands of the scene together. What’s it like having such a range of musicians and musical experiences to work with?
I have always been interested in mixing different influences in my music. Back in France I made three albums with a saxophone player which brought a jazzy flavour to my compositions. Naturally I wanted to follow new directions when I moved to Cambodia. My idea is that by working with many different artists you can enrich your music and put something to the audience that they have never seen.
Hip hop always seems to be just about to break through in contemporary Cambodian culture, and then slips back again. Is that your experience? How do you see the scene and is possibilities?
I think it is kind of the case for music and art in general in Cambodia – basically the lack of money in the industry means the promoters and brands do not invest in artists. However, artistically speaking, I think many things have been done in hip hop during the last four years in Cambodia, and hopefully there is more to come.
12me is performing his all acoustic set as part of the Original Sessions series this Sunday afternoon on the Paris Boat, leaving from Sisowath Quay at 4.30 pm, after which goes back to continue work on his fourth album. You can check out more of his work on his Youtube channel or via his Facebook page.
Tickets are only $7 but there is limited seating to get in quick – visit the Tickets section in your Pi Pay app.