Home » Laura Mam: The Cambodian-American Trailblazer Pioneering Original Music and Empowering Artists

Laura Mam: The Cambodian-American Trailblazer Pioneering Original Music and Empowering Artists

by Surya Narayan
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Laura Tevary Mam is a Cambodian-American artist, songwriter, music producer, and businesswoman. She is known for being a member of the Cambodian Original Music Movement and is the founder and CEO of Baramey Productions, which is an artist management and music production company with a shared resource model and a vision to make original music mainstream in Cambodia. 

Laura was born in San Jose, California to a Cambodian immigrant and Buddhist family. Her mother, Thida Buth was a software developer in Silicon Valley and her father Vitou Mam is a Lead Mechanic at United Airlines. Both of Mam’s parents are Khmer Rouge Genocide survivors who fled war-torn Cambodia to Thailand when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in January 1979. They were accepted as political refugees in the United States of America in March 1980. Mam has a younger brother, Andrew Tevuth Mam, and a younger half-sister, Tiffany Mam, on her father’s side.

Mam grew up in San Jose California with a diverse community of Asian Americans. Her mother introduced her to the Cambodian community where they taught her The Cambodian language (Khmer) and the Cambodian performing arts at age 8, which she came to love. While attending the University of California at Berkeley, she took courses in Khmer language and culture. Mam graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Anthropology.

Laura had no intention of becoming a pop star. At the time that her surprise career was born, she was completing a degree in anthropology with a social-cultural focus on Cambodia and working at the Global Heritage Fund on the preservation of a Cambodian heritage site. Laura stumbled into the entertainment world after one of her original Khmer-language songs went viral on YouTube. The video had reached 75,000 views in the course of a single night. But it wasn’t just about the numbers. The viewers’ reactions, the majority of them from the Cambodian diaspora around the world, stunned them. This reaction is due to the destruction of Cambodian art by the Khmer Rouge.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, Phnom Penh was a flourishing musical hotbed, with King Norodom Sihanouk a musician and fervent patron of the arts, as documented in the film, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the once-thriving Cambodian music scene was too decimated to recover. Virtually all of the musicians who survived the purges fled the country and were exiled. Laura and other new original artists like her were finding ways around the industry’s barriers. These artists used social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to circumvent karaoke production houses and bring the songs they were writing straight to fans. Moving to Cambodia opened Laura’s eyes to what was happening behind the scenes in the country’s music industry.

In 2016, Laura Mam and her mother founded Baramey, a production company dedicated to supporting upcoming artists and boosting the original music movement in Cambodia. Baramey’s music ranges from hip-hop and rock to psychedelic, to traditional Khmer with a modern twist. The company’s roster now boasts 15 artists and 20 albums, including the Cambodian hip-hop sensation, VannDa, and other notable artists such as Sophia Kao, Vanthan, Lux, Polarix, and La Cima Cartel.

Kmeng Khmer, the pioneering pop/hip hop duo, was the first group to sign with Baramey in 2014. Mam discovered them while they were solo artists working on a joint project with Smallworld, Smallband. Kmeng Khmer hit instant success with their nationwide smash hit “Bonn Phum” (a collaboration with Smallworld Smallband), and their debut album was released eight months after signing with Baramey. In 2018, Kmeng Khmer released “My Way 2” which included the hit songs “Far Away” and “Na Na Ke”. Kmeng Khmer has headlined large local concerts, consistently delivering a high-energy dance performance balanced with a selection of more emotional songs that resonate with Khmer youth.

In 2021, VannDa and Baramey Production blew up domestically and internationally with the release of “Time to Rise” featuring Master Kong Nay. The chart-topping hit exploded throughout Southeast Asia with its blend of soul-piercing lyricism and Khmer instrumentation with Hip Hop & Drill sounds. The transcendent song featuring 77-year-old Cambodian music legend Master Kong Nay won Lifted Asia’s Song of the Year, and Music Video of the Year. It was placed in Apple Music’s Editorial Teams’ Top 100 songs of the year. The “Time to Rise” music video now has over 100 million views on Youtube.

VannDa makes history again in 2022 with his collaboration on “Run The Town” with the well-known Thai rapper F.Hero featuring 1 Mill and Sprite. The song, with its massive sound and multiple layers of production infusing traditional Khmer and Thai elements, has been heralded as a seminal track in Southeast Asian hip-hop history and an important step of collaboration between Cambodia and Thailand.

In November 2022, VannDa made history again with his performance at Thailand’s biggest music festival Big Mountain Music Festival in Pak Chong District alongside some of the biggest names in Thai music including Phum Viphurit, Billkin, F.HERO, Three Man Down, H3F, Taitosmith and more.

The partnership with Warner Music Group recognizes how Baramey has created a platform for artists to release their songs in a domestic market that had been dominated by music piracy. Mam’s vision for Baramey was to help shape local practices, establish new benchmarks, and introduce a level of professionalism to the nascent Cambodian music sector. With ADA Asia now working closely with Baramey, Cambodian artists are set to benefit from customized services such as global music distribution, digital marketing, and sync licensing, which will expand the global reach of Khmer music and culture around the world.

Mam’s advocacy for intellectual property (IP) rights and IP law enforcement has been a driving force behind her efforts to revolutionize the Cambodian music industry. When Mam first moved to Cambodia, she was faced with the norms of music piracy, which inspired her to continue fighting for the original music movement in Cambodia. Mam believes that with the emergence of technology in Cambodia and how much content is created in the digital sphere, the rights and enforcement of IP should also revolve around technology in order to protect artists’ content, the entertainment industry, and other sectors.

In 2018, Laura Mam hosted a TED Talk on “How music revolution changes Cambodia narrative” where she captured audiences early on with her remakes of Khmer hits and her dramatic use of Khmer sounds and styles merged into Western styles of music. Mam discussed how her music has explored various forms of Cambodian music and her unique guitar skills as well as her heavy dance performances in Cambodia. Mam’s brand extends to her larger vision as the CEO leading a new brand of premium original artists, which is Baramey Production.

Mam’s efforts and achievements have not gone unnoticed. She was awarded this year’s Arts and Culture prize from the Women of the Future Awards South East Asia, a testament to her dedication and impact in the industry. With Baramey at the forefront of the Cambodian music scene and Mam’s unwavering advocacy for IP rights, the future looks bright for the country’s artists and the industry as a whole.

Laura Mam’s unexpected journey from an anthropology student to a music producer and advocate for original Khmer music has not only helped to revive the country’s music scene but also shed light on Cambodia’s cultural heritage. Through Baramey, Mam has provided a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talents and promote the unique blend of traditional Khmer music with modern styles. Her efforts have helped to build a new generation of Khmer musicians who continue to inspire and entertain audiences with their music. Mam’s passion for preserving and promoting Cambodian music serves as an inspiration to others seeking to make a positive impact in their communities.

Photos: Facebook page of Laura Mam

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