Khmer-inspired balearica is what comes to mind when the downtempo broken-beat of ‘Pretty Srey’ rolls in.
Maggie Tra is a Cambodian-Vietnamese artist who spent most of her time growing up in Australia, until recently relocating to Hanoi. This latest production ‘Pretty Srey’ released on her own recently set up label SYS Sister Sounds, and is a far more personal creation that takes Maggie back to her childhood, whilst also playing truth-bearer to the ongoing identity and gender equality issues that modern society faces today.
In Khmer, “srey” means “female or woman”, and Maggie was often referred to as a “pretty girl” when she was young. It gave her mixed feelings of discomfort and flattery as she grew up — ‘Srey Girl’ hits on these nuances through spacious broken beats that encounter disorderly but pleasant melodics courtesy of traditional percussive instruments Maggie has sampled and manipulated for that nonchalant ancient mood. Only instruments like those from the roneat family of bamboo xylophones can really give you that particular depth and origin of sound. It’s certainly worth noting the sonic contrast that highlights the adverse coupling of old and new, ease and discomfort, and even the gender status quo — all thanks to the mastering skills of Max Mason of Vietnam-Thailand label venture Boiled Wonderland Records.
Speaking about background and process behind ‘Pretty Srey’, Maggie tells us “searching through the Cambodian side of me has been really enriching, and being born in Australia I identify myself with so many cultures, but being able to produce music and break down a timeline of how I feel is liberating”. A dismaying discovery that inspired her was when she realised a lot of traditional and new Cambodian music were more about men, infidelity and heartbreak. Maggie thinks it’s time to change that, and have Asian women represented in the music industry is certainly the way forward.
“The process reminded me that there weren’t many artists that I could look up to or relate to growing up. So coming out and producing music — wherever this journey takes me, I hope it inspires more Asian women to make and create music without fear.”
Maggie Tra makes a contentious effort to balance the worldly magic one seeks comfort in from a suave sea-side groove, together with traditional Cambodian samples that she plays on as an homage to her Khmer roots.
Maggie Tra 'Pretty Srey' drops tomorrow March 24 on SYS Sister Sounds. Check out the music video below and you can pre-order here.