Cambodian songwriter Suon Socheata, known as Nikki Nikki, has scored a hit with her soulful single ‘Home for Dinner’ and is featured along with other up-and-coming artists on the Songkites album. AsiaLIFE asks the 23-year-old Phnom Penh local about her inspiration. Styling by fashion label Tonlé, photography David Collins.

How did you first become interested in music?
My father was a great influence. I would watch him sing karaoke in the living room and practice the lyrics. My aunt had a collection of CDs by artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. I would borrow her CDs and play them in the car on the way to school. MTV was a boost too. It was probably the only channel I watched when I was going to high school. I was pretty much a music freak. I would carry a huge CD bag with a Walkman to school and listen to many songs by different artists during break time. I started doing covers and posting them on YouTube in November 2010. I continued to cover songs and then put up a few originals, and now I am glad to have almost 3,000 YouTube subscribers.

You took part in the Songkites project, which mentored young Cambodian songwriters and produced an album of their work. How did you get involved?
A member of Songkites, called Panha, who has such a charming voice, invited me to go for the audition. At that time, I did not know anything about Songkites at all. I did some quick research and went for the audition on the same day. I remember I had a terribly sore throat that day, so it was very difficult for me to sing and speak, but surprisingly I was selected to be on the album.

What was your experience of working with the other 
young songwriters and musicians?
I’m so happy to be a part of Songkites because it is a platform that motivates, encourages and allows me to write songs. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people who shared the same talent, so being a member of Songkites gives me warmth and the feeling of not being left out. When the album was released and the concert took place, the reaction that we got from people was very remarkable. So far, we haven’t had any serious criticism about the project. It’s all about support and about people asking for more. Some are just thankful and proud of us. I believe that from here, I see the opportunity to go out there and express myself through the art of music.

What or who inspires you 
as a songwriter?
I have a few people that I look up to in terms of success. I love Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Adele. I love their voices and where they stand as artists. They not only have powerful voices, but they receive so much respect from listeners. I think that most of the time, I am the inspiration behind my song writing. I love to write about the things I see everyday and what I experience.

Your track ‘Home for Dinner’ has beautiful lyrics and tens of thousands of YouTube views. What is the song about, and what inspired you to write it?
My brother and I wrote the song ‘Home for Dinner’. It’s more of a childhood story, but I’m pretty sure that this kind of story is not uncommon. When I was younger, my father travelled a lot, and so now I feel the need to express how I felt as a young girl. Many people can relate to this song because many of us have busy fathers who are out there working really hard for us, so it’s not really a bad thing after all. However, I wanted to make the song a little sad to give it more meaning.

Do you think the local music scene is changing thanks to new, original talent?
I can definitely see that the Cambodian music scene is changing, and it’s obviously coming from youth, which is perfect to me, because we need new inventions, and young people need to contribute more of their talents and skills. I used to be one of those people who prayed that music would take a different turn here, and now I’m glad to be one of those people who are changing the music scene here.

Do you think social media is important for new artists?
Many people don’t really value things put up on YouTube or Facebook because it’s not really professional. But if you think you have something special and different, and you need people to hear or see it, then Facebook and YouTube are definitely the right places to start off from. I had those two platforms take me all the way here, and so I believe social media is important and powerful.

Do you have any advice for young people who might want to enter the music industry?
If young people want to enter the music industry, I think what they need is talent, passion and commitment. There will be many people trying to stop you or people who are also doing what you’re doing, so it’s very challenging. Also, it’s not really easy to come out and be popular and valuable at the same time, therefore, if someone can hold on to that dream for more than five years or so, then there should be a successful story for people to see.

What are your ambitions for the future?
My ambitions for the future wouldn’t be too different from other artists out there. I just want to be known as one of the greatest singers/songwriters who is gifted and passionate. I want to be a part of what can change music right now into something much more influential and significant. Most importantly, by the end of my career, I want people to remember who I was, and what I have done to make Cambodia better.
Hear Nikki Nikki’s music on YouTube or pick up the Songkites album from songkites.bandcamp.com, iTunes, 10K Skateshop, The Goody Shop or Ragamuffin Boathouse in Phnom Penh. For more information about the Tonlé fashion label and its new collection, visit tonledesign.com