Sashaying about in a slinky metallic evening gown, Meas Soksophea brings an air of glamour to an otherwise lifeless, stark white photo studio. Accompanied by her entourage of stylist, hair and make-up artist and husband-cum-manager, the pop starlet has all the intrigue one would expect of an A-lister.
Meas Soksophea, or Phea, as she is known to her friends, is one of Cambodia’s new generation of music stars. Without any formal training under her belt, she shot to fame in 2005 with a cover of the LeAnn Rimes song “How Do I Live”. Since then, Phea has teamed up with various producers and sound engineers to refine her sound, and whether singing in English or Khmer, her career has been ultimately defined by her love of her homeland.
“My inspiration mainly comes from my country, its people and the beautiful scenery around me. Travelling across Cambodia, seeing the landscape and people during my tours, helps inspire my music and lyrics.”
According to Phea, her most memorable achievement to date came in 2011, when her fans were able to show just how much they appreciate her diverse tunes. As part of the Anachakdara awards, a countrywide vote was cast and Phea was honoured with one of the event’s most prestigious titles – Female Singer of the Year. Known as the Academy Awards of Cambodia, the ceremony gives recognition to the cream of the music, film and entertainment crops.
“To this day, I still remember the cheering and applause when they announced my name. I couldn’t hold my tears back. I just cried,” she says. “It meant more to me than anything. It made all of my hard work worth it as it came from my fans, and my country.”
On the back of such success, the singer has toured the globe, including the US, Australia, Europe and Japan. Today, Phea is working with KhmerTree, a production group based out of the place where dreams are made – Hollywood. Developing her sound with catchy tracks such as “Dance Today”, designed to appeal to an international audience, Phea says she hopes Cambodian artists will one day make as big of an impact as some other Asian stars have.
“There are songs such as ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy that dominated the charts. Even with the whole song being in Korean, it became a huge international hit. I hope that one day Cambodian music can do the same thing,” she says.
“There is a lot to be said for music and artists from Cambodia today. I feel like we have a lot of talent and it is very promising,” Phea adds. “A lot of investors in Cambodia are also contracting Khmer entertainers to market their companies. Before, we would never see ourselves on billboards or in commercials.”
While Phea is heavily influenced by current chart-topping pop, RnB and dance artists, it is the Kingdom’s golden era of rock’n’roll that remains her most constant source of inspiration.
“I love Pan Ron’s voice,” she says, referring to the female Cambodian pop artist from the late ’60s and early ’70s who is thought, tragically, to have perished during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge years. “My mother and
I still listen to her music.”
As Phea wraps up her photoshoot, her hair stylist removing her silky hair extensions and scraping her shoulder-length locks into a high bun, she says she would love to one day sing with Beyoncé. It is this, the starlet’s wide-eyed perspective on today’s music industry, coupled with her dedication to her heritage, that makes her so engaging.
“I am very proud of our culture, right from the Angkor era. We have our own language, arts, traditions and history. I am very proud to be Khmer.”