Thousands of people attended the 15th annual Southeast Asian Water Festival in Lowell, Mass., last weekend. They were treated to a wide variety of music, from traditional and folk to rap and hip hop. The music was as diverse as its fans, the divide indicative of two different generations of Cambodian-Americans.
“I prefer traditional dance and music over hip hop,” said Hoeun Chhliv, a 52-year-old who fled Battambang province during the war and settled in the US in 1985. “I’m not interested in rap. It’s music for the youth, or younger generation, only. I can only understand a few words of the rap lyrics. Rap uses curse words. It’s painful to the ear and painful to the eyes.”
But at this year’s festival, which also included a boat race and other ceremonies, a younger crowd emerged in favor of the new music, which requires less costuming and is more casual than older forms.
Addam Long, a race rower for the LaoBodian team, said he liked the rap music on offer.
“I’m of the younger generation, so I grew up with all the rap and the hip hop,” he said. “I like hip hop, but I listen to other Asian music too.”
Preferences were not just divided by age, however.
Mao Chansoknea, a Cambodian studying at St. Laurence University, in New York, said she liked the traditional coconut dance as well as the modern music.
“Which do I prefer?” she said. “I prefer Cambodian folk music.”
There were others who couldn’t decide.
“I like all kinds of music,” said Luch Em, a Cambodian refugee. “I enjoy watching any performance.”
She added, however: “I don’t understand rap lyrics.”