The Khmer & Vietnamese Music That Shaped Maggie Tra

The Khmer & Vietnamese Music That Shaped Maggie Tra
Henry Johnstone
The Khmer & Vietnamese Music That Shaped Maggie Tra

We are the sum of our early musical encounters. Australian born DJ and producer Maggie Tra is not only conscious of this notion, she whole heartedly embraces it - fusing the traditional sounds of her Khmer/Vietnamese background with contemporary dance music. Imbued with a hint of sweet and a dash of spice, Maggie’s productions are a prime example of the fresh and exciting electronic music currently being made right here in Australia. Need proof? Check out her addictive cuts ‘Yummy Lion Dancer’ or ‘Pretty Srey’ and see for yourself.

Ahead of her upcoming DJ set at the club, we asked Maggie to share with us five tracks that have inspired her unique sound, from traditional Khmer and Mahori music through to contemporary Vietnamese artists putting a modern spin on the sounds of yore.

Funkonami - Vietnamese Roses

This song includes a sample from Vietnamese artist, Khánh Ly. The original track is called ‘Bông hồng cài áo’. Vietnamese vocals can be so funky, soulful or folky and I really love her voice in this song. Funkonami brings it back to the modern world, but these two styles shape how I make music and the influences of using vocals to shape a song. It also brings a lot of nostalgia for me.

Srey No (Lady Name No)

Traditional Khmer music is very folky/indie/rock with a full-band. I’ll be honest my parents used to play this music when I was younger and the Western kid in me hated it - it just sounded like too much noise. It’s only lately that I have leaned into traditional sounds and appreciated it more. With Asian music, the hardest part is discovering who the artist is exactly, as not much history is known about them, so lots of compilations have come out to release these songs again.

I love the sounds and textures of this song. I also love the two vocals. Khmer songs are like proper stories or conversations when they sing together and that’s something that has come into my music. I try to embrace the art of storytelling in my music, but instead of words I use sounds.

The Mahori Orchestra - Khmer Chroot Srau

I grew up mostly with a single mother. My Mum is Khmer and she played a lot of Khmer music so that she could feel less alone in Australia. The songs would mostly be vocal led, so I began searching for more instrumentals and found Mahori music. Mahori music was famous in the 9th Century and it’s still a big thing now. I guess out of all the Asian countries I have been to, Cambodia’s traditional music scene is bigger than its modern contemporary music scene.

When I first heard this, it really took me back to rice fields - the simple countryside of Cambodia. I imagine that’s where my Mum grew up, going to shops and buying food at the markets. These sounds influenced my first releases ‘Pretty Srey’ and my EP ‘U.L A’ (You Look Asian).

VannDa - Time To Rise feat. Master Kong Nay

While I love shedding light on older influences, it’s the newer generation that I really love and what keeps me creating. VannDa is a rapper from Cambodia who has done some amazing things. His song ‘Time To Rise’ which features the legendary Master Kong Nay is what I’ve admired most and I love to make music that just gives you that nostalgia feeling. It also gives me a sense of proudness of my country and the artists who have gone through so much suffering make so much amazing music.

The blend of modern and traditional feelings in this song makes my arm hairs rise. The fact that I can understand the Khmer makes my heart melt. I hope people see my music that way too. I also love the Khmer xylophone in it. I am a sucker for a good old xylophone!

LIMEBÓCX - Yêu Nhau (Qua Cầu Gió Bay)

Another young duo out of Hanoi that I love is LIMEBÓCX. I first discovered them when I was living there a few years ago. The vocals and the beat boxing skills from Tuansss is out of control and so amazing. I love the use of traditional elements that usually wouldn’t work with modern sounds, but it completely does.

I didn’t grow up so much with Vietnamese music in the house, as my parents separated when I was young. But I had a lot of Vietnamese friends in Australia and loved going to my local Pho spot to listen to music. Or hearing the bloody neighbours do karaoke! I guess I’ve always had an affinity with Vietnamese music. I think it’s the combination of Vietnamese lyrics with the soothing soulful vocals that really inspires me. I’ll be making a song with Tuansss when I work on my new album hopefully this year.

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