Born in a bustling Cambodian market, a young dreamer named VannDa found his rhythm amid the clatter and chaos. Today, his beats resonate far beyond the shores of his homeland, streaming on platforms like Spotify and capturing the imaginations of hip-hop fans in the region and beyond.
VannDa’s ability to bridge borders with his music has arguably turned him into the soundtrack of Cambodia’s future, inspiring a new generation to dream big and reach for the stars, as he takes on the role of a producer for local hip-hop contest The Rapper Cambodia (Season 1), broadcast through various channels including Bayon TV.
“Cambodian Hip Hop will go far and wide, I have no doubt,” says Mann Vannda, stylised as VannDa, who was an independent singer from 2016 to 2018 before joining Baramey Production, a premium talent management and concept company.
“When I performed with Suboi in Vietnam in the final episode of Rap Viet Season 3, I did not expect that our collaboration would be trending so much on TikTok or Spotify in both countries. But it did,” the 26-year-old says of his September 9 performance with Hang Lam Trang Anh, a renowned Vietnamese rapper, singer and songwriter known by her stage name Suboi.
The Cambodian hip-hop sensation says the music he made with Suboi also accumulated over 1.3 million viewers on the YouTube and VieOn apps at the time.
International collaborations of this nature have the power to break conventional boundaries and pave the way for the entire Cambodian music industry to make strides on the international stage.
VannDa mentions a notable quote from Baramey CEO Laura, during her speech at the “All that Matters Conference” in Singapore: “Physical borders are being replaced by digital borders in the music industry and that’s why the time for Cambodians unleashing their talent to the world has arrived.”
Suboi, 33, posted photos with VannDa on her Facebook page and wrote a short caption saying: “A beautiful fusion of cultures. We made it!”
Chhort Bunthong, head of the Culture, Education and Tourist Relations department at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), observes that through his music – an artful blending of modern and traditional musical forms – VannDa has significantly contributed to the promotion of Cambodia’s modern culture and art on an international scale.
In addition to foreigners embracing modern hip-hop music, Bunthong notes that Cambodians also have a fondness for this contemporary art form.
Bunthong suggests that music is akin to a buffet, allowing individuals to select and enjoy what resonates with their personal preferences. The same principle applies to art; whether it’s modern or traditional, listeners can choose what appeals to them.
“The ancient art forms that have survived to this day have naturally undergone some changes over time and may have experienced some losses,” he tells The Post, “but there are new elements introduced alongside aspects that have been lost, which is a common evolution in society,” he says.
VannDa finds the transformative shift in the musical landscape truly remarkable. His journey in the music industry has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Born on January 22, 1997, in Sihanoukville and growing up in a family that ran a coconut-shaving family business in Psar Leur, a local market, VannDa found solace and inspiration in music from a young age.
One of the pivotal moments in his career was the release of Time to Rise, a groundbreaking track featuring the celebrated Chapei Dang Veng legend Master Kong Nay.
This song seamlessly blended traditional Khmer elements with hip-hop, garnering attention not just in Cambodia but internationally. It has garnered 116 million views on YouTube since its release in March 2021.
VannDa’s Time to Rise also made its mark in Vietnam, ranking 14th out of 50 popular songs, while his SOLO reached the 87th spot among all popular songs there on Spotify.
“I appreciate all my fans who have always been loyal and supportive,” he says, “They made it possible for me and my music to travel across borders, and also in turn help bringing Cambodian music to the world.”
VannDa on the international stage
This isn’t the first time that VannDa has collaborated with international artists. Besides working with local talents, including his label mate and emerging R’n’B sensation Sophia Kao, as well as La Cima Cartel and Khmeng Khmer, VannDa has extended his reach to the Thai music scene, collaborating with Thai rappers such as F.HERO, 1MILL, and OG Bobby.
VannDa displayed his talent at the ASEAN Music Showcase 2021 in Singapore, performing alongside special guests Vanthan, Omens Radio and YCN Rakhie.
Additionally, VannDa made his debut in Japan at Tokyo’s RAISE Club on July 16, where he shared the stage with self-styled “Queen of Japanese hip-hop” Akiko Urasaki, an Okinawan native known professionally as Awich.
Most recently, VannDa wowed fans at the massive Rolling Loud hip-hop music festival, describing the experience as “amazing”. Performing on such a grand stage – this year held in Thailand last April – with stars like Cardi B, Chris Brown and Travis Scott was a dream come true for him.
He was also previously invited to perform at other major music festivals such as Big Mountain in Thailand and Takao Rock in Taiwan.
VannDa’s journey in the music industry has been a remarkable one, marked by perseverance and triumph.
“I’ve come a long way, facing numerous challenges and rough moments, but the victories have made it all worthwhile,” he says.
Solidifying his reputation as a prominent figure in the Cambodian musical landscape, his song Time to Rise won “Best Video of The Year” from LiFTED Asia in 2021 and secured the 6th spot on the Top 50 Hip Hop Artists in Asia list in 2022. He also earned New Music Express’ (NME) recognition for his album Skull 2 as one of the best albums of 2022.
Notably, he was named in the Forbes Under 30 Asia List – Class of 2023, a testament to his impact and influence.
The Rapper Cambodia’s producer
Speaking about “The Rapper Cambodia” competition, sponsored by Hanuman Beverages Co Ltd, VannDa expressed his belief that the show will play a pivotal role in nurturing and educating the country’s rising rap talents.
He emphasised the importance of hip-hop as a language of hope and a platform to challenge stereotypes, while also providing a safe space for young artists to express themselves and gain recognition.
“We are experienced seniors and mentors who can give advice and help them move to the next level of their career, whether they make it till the end of the show or not,” Vannada says, adding that the programme aims to bring all Cambodians together to support and push the country’s modern music industry to grow and spread further across the globe.
A producer and also an anchor of the show, VannDa determines which contestants fit well with certain coaches’ teams. He offers advice to all participants on their performances, music, flow, stage presence, voice tones and attitude. Furthermore, he guides them on how to enhance their unique style as rappers and develop their overall star power package.
“Myself and Juvie Lin, my co-producer, are both here to create rap stars. If you were to compare the rappers to a knife, we are their whetstone,” he tells The Post.
The rapper says he aims to see Cambodian youth respect themselves through this art form and seize the opportunity to launch their careers in the music industry, much like he has in his own journey.
He says Cambodian people have started listening, learning and supporting rap music, as he witnessed in the first airing of Episode 1 of The Rapper Cambodia, which reached over 1.6 million views.
Cambodia boasts a unique sound, he says, and its culture is rich with distinctive elements. These include the traditional musical styles of Ayai and Smot, along with traditional instruments not found anywhere else, to name just a few. Such unique elements enable Cambodian rappers to create “colours and flavours” in their music that are truly unprecedented.
“With so many young rising talents with the grits and strength to go to the global stage, we will be producing the best rap artists and imprinting a mark on the globe for sure,” he says.
To aspiring artists in Cambodia, VannDa has a message of encouragement: “Chase after your dreams with self-confidence, patience and perseverance and I believe you can do it ... Now I see that the next generation of young people are full of potential, so I want to encourage everyone to dream big and be a little bold to succeed. And go far. The bridge is being built, add to it, make it big and go far. Show me your talent!”
In the ever-evolving world of music, VannDa stands as a shining example of talent, dedication and the power of music to transcend borders.