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Singing street hawkers are an important part of life in Phnom Penh, but it's also one that is fast disappearing. The bicycle carts are fast disappearing, and with them, the sellers' songs. But renowned Australian and Cambodian artists are bringing the sounds and images of Phnom Penh's singing street hawkers to Melbourne in an effort to preserve the tradition. Their project is called 'The Hawkers Song' and is a video and sound installation that celebrates the street traders and their lives.
 

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MAUNG: From dawn til dusk, the cry of the street hawker is a familiar sound for many in the streets of South East Asia.

In Phnom Penh, this sound is quickly being replaced by the sounds of urbanisation - the noise from building sites and traffic are now drowning out the hawker's song.

Cambodian artist, Srey Bandol, is worried the sounds of the Cambodia he knows are changing too quickly, a reflection of the rapid modernisation taking place in Cambodia.

SREY BANDOL: The hawkers' song is when people who are poor, just the people who are poor do it, but it is part of the culture.

MAUNG: Along with fellow Cambodian artist, Mesa Sokhorn, Srey Bandol is collaborating with Australian artists, Sue McCauley and Keith Deverill to honour the hawkers' song.

SREY BANDOL: I think it will be gone some day, so that's why we catch now, to keep it.

MAUNG: Mesa Sokhorn says rapid urban development is making it more difficult for the poorest people.

MESA SOKHORN: Yes, most of the hawkers, they are not rich, they are poor. They spend day on the street with tiny food of some sort that they have to resell to grab the next meal.

MAUNG: Cambodia has a strong oral tradition, with hawker's songs being passed on generation to generation. The songs let customers know they're coming to identify the types of wares being sold.

Australian artist, Keith Deverill.

DEVERILL: They often have a particular instrument as well. Some of them have a bell, some of them have little black bamboo clackers. Some of them have little squeezy tooters, so there's quite a distinct sound to the specific trade or wares.

MAUNG: Deverill says these sounds and images that are quintessentially Asian will soon be lost as hawkers are forced to look elsewhere for a source of income.

DEVERILL: In terms of access to places like in the street, in Phnom Penh now, there are areas where people are being moved on. They can't trade like they used to. But it also comes down to their rights to housing and their rights to land, to live.

MAUNG: The four artists have been displaying their project at a number of sites in Melbourne - a mix of song, sound loops and visual imagery of Phnom Penh - including at the heart of the city's Cambodian community, Springvale.

Cambodian artist, Srey Bandol.

SREY BANDOL: It's most important thing for the Cambodian people and community in Springvale because some of them, they are far away from their town, from their country. So when they hear or sing something, it makes them remember, [brings] back memories, so it's very important.

MAUNG: His Australian collaborator, Sue McCauley, agrees.

MCCAULEY: We recorded the people in Springvale, members of the Cambodian community, remembering the songs of the hawkers they grew up with. So we recorded them, doing the songs, like the Cambodian noodles and the broom seller - Numphung, numphung! And then we interwove the memories of the Cambodian people in Australia, into the soundtrack.

MAUNG: McCauley says what's important is the involvement of the community.

MCCAULEY: That's what is important. It's bringing people together from across the seas, but with the same history.

MAUNG: The group recognises development is essential to Phnom Penh's integration into a modern world, but unsustainable development is putting the most vulnerable people more at risk.

For Mesa Sokhorn, the hawkers' songs are not just a way to identify their trade or wares. They are also a living performance.

As part of his contribution to 'The Hawker's Song' Mesa Khorn has dedicated a song of his own to the hawkers and their place in Cambodia's social fabric.

MESA SOKHORN: I hope one day, the hawkers' songs have their presence on stage, as they become part of the culture. I hope it happens one day.
 
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