When Cambodian-American rapper praCh performed his career-making album, “Dalama,” at the Art Theatre four years ago, he swore it would be his last performance. After over 20 years of making music, Cambodia’s first hip-hop star was ready to venture into other creative projects.
“I told myself I would retire from rapping at the Cambodia Town Film Festival. I did my album anniversary, and I had my friends, and we did a packed house show and it was great. And as I was hanging up the mic I was like, ‘I’m done,’” recalled praCh, whose full name is praCh Ly. “And then one day I get an email from the symphony.”
On Saturday, April 29, praCh will be performing live at the Terrace Theater in the world premiere of “Khmeraspora,” a new musical performance of song, dance, spoken word and rap that tells the story of the Cambodian exodus to Long Beach in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge-led genocide in the 1970s.
The show, written and directed by praCh, is an unprecedented collaboration between the Long Beach Symphony and the Long Beach Cambodian community and includes three new compositions by renowned Cambodian composer Chinary Ung. Performed with 14 members of the Long Beach Symphony and the Ho Chan ensemble, the music showcases a uniting of traditional Cambodian and Western classical instruments.
“These pieces will unite the art forms and also honor each art form in itself,” said Kelly Ruggirello, president of the Long Beach Symphony.
The hour-long performance incorporates praCh’s most powerful lyrical works, with guest singers and dance performances, illustrating the collective intergenerational experience of Cambodian immigrants in their flight from the Khmer Rouge to their resettling in Long Beach, which presented new struggles for a community still trying to cope with the destruction of their homeland and lost loved ones.
“When we first settled in Long Beach, we weren’t put in a nice neighborhood, we got put into the projects. We were on government support, welfare and food stamps,” praCh said. “I became immune to drive-by shootings and gunshots and all that stuff.”
Long Beach is home to the world’s largest concentration of the Cambodian diaspora, and while much has changed for the better in the last 30 years, the community, praCh said, is still healing. To that end, the symphony hopes that this concert can contribute positively to the community’s future and help build a stronger relationship.
“It’s a way to celebrate, unite and also inspire other communities around the world to embrace and create these kinds of musical collaborations that could change lives and unite communities at a time when it’s desperately needed,” Ruggirello said.
With inclusion in mind, the Long Beach Symphony is offering free admission to the show. Both the 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows are currently sold out (the shows sold out within days of announcements); however, guests are encouraged to RSVP to be added to a waitlist. No-show seats will be given to those on the waitlist the day of the show.
“The response has been overwhelming, probably one of the greatest highlights of my career so far,” Ruggirello said.
The day of the performances also features a Cambodian night market with 20 Cambodian restaurants and vendors participating. The event will also include an art show curated by local Cambodian artist Sayon Syprasoeuth, as well as dancing, music, poetry readings and book signings. The market will be open from 4-9 p.m.
To commemorate this show and create a global presence, the symphony has brought on award-winning filmmaker Caylee So and documentarian Robert Carleton-Chhaing to create a feature-length documentary about the process of putting “Khmeraspora” together. The documentary will feature conversations, meetings, rehearsals and the live performance of the show at the Terrace Theater. The film is expected to be released in the next year.
For praCh, “Khmeraspora” represents a full circle moment in his life. In his youth, he remembered when symphony members would visit his school to perform. He loved the concerts, but his family couldn’t afford to see the symphony’s performances. Now, he’s excited to share this labor of love with the entire Long Beach community to build empathy and understanding.
“And at the end of the day, all I ask is that (audiences) get a better understanding of my people, my community and what we went through. I know that war affects everybody, not just Cambodians. But also, where’s there’s suffering is also healing. And right now we’re healing, and we want to unite and work with everybody,” he said.
The Long Beach Terrace Theater is at 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Click here for more information about the show and to RSVP.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the capitalization of praCh and the name of the Cambodia Town Film Festival.