The Messenger Band

Hair extensions

Year: 2005 - date

Type: protest band

Members [at different times]: Em [aka Saem] Vun, Leng Leakhana, Chrek Sopha, Nam Sophors, Kao Sochevika, Sothary Kun, Van Huon & others

Availability: watch the band’s music videos free their YouTube channel (here), search for more of their songs on Youtube (here), follow the band on facebook (here), check the short films about the band on Daily Motion (here), Youtube (here and here) and Vimeo (here) and rent or buy Lauren Shaw’s (2015) film Angkor’s Children, in which they feature, here.

Page reference: Bissell, L., Hodges, G., Ravel, F., Sammut, J. & Reynolds, E. (2020) The Messenger Band. ( last accessed <insert date here>)


[They’re] Cambodia\s first protest band (Source: Kvan 2015, np link).

[They’re] Cambodia’s first ever social activist folk group (Source: Morrissey 2014, np link).

[They’re] Cambodians only girl group with a cause (Source: Editor1 nd, np link).

When the makers of your clothes sing (Source: Pearson 2015, np link).

Six former or current Cambodian garment factory workers make up The Messenger Band (Source: Pearson 2015, np link).

[Or t]he MB, as the band is best known by Cambodians (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[As a] women-powered music project [and] … grassroots advocacy group, their mission is to compose and perform original songs that reflect the current problems and situation faced by the working class and impoverished people of Cambodia … (Source: Up Srei Media 2015, np link).

… [like] unfair and exploitative working conditions and inadequate wages (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

They’re kind of more of a group of activists or an NGO as much as they are a band (Davies in Perez-Solero 2017, np link).

[T]heir songs are very sweet and beautiful … (Davies in Perez-Solero 2017, np link).

… in the traditional Cambodian folk style … (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

… in tones unheard in American pop tunes … (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

… [and] heavily influence[d] by k-pop (Source: Saphan 2017, p.294 link).

[B]ut there’s a very serious message behind them … (Source: Davies in Perez-Solero 2017, np link).

… [because] their lyrics address social issues (Source: Saphan 2017, p.294 link).

… rang[ing] in topic from land ownership issues affecting residents in rural provinces to policies directly aimed at garment workers (Source: Kvan 2015, np link).

[Their] songs are the oral histories of the working poor … (Source: Tolson 2014, np link).

… for people who need them (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

[Their mission is to] educate and mobilize laborers through music and entertainment (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

We call ourselves the Messenger Band because we collect and perform the messages told to us by one person, sharing them with others (Source: band member in Schimetat 2014, np link).

A Bob Marley quote on the band's Facebook profile … [says]: 'I am not a leader but a messenger. The words of the songs, not the person, is what attracts people' (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Established in 2005 [the MB] comprised of seven members [including] Leng Leakhana, Em Vun, Chrek Sopha and others (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

… in August 2007, some members left the band and … five more members joined the remaining three members (Source: Anon nd, np link).

[These MB lineups] have been making music for [over] 10 years (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

At the beginning, some members had part-time jobs, but the MB is now a full-time occupation for all six women. The band has released six albums, the most recent being last year's 'Wake Up’ (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

At first, they focused on the people they knew best, the girls in the factories, but soon they expanded their message to cover other vulnerable women, mainly sex workers and farmers (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

There are a lot of problems that women as workers are facing, but they cannot speak out. … These songs come from the workers hearts, to tell the public what problems the workers have (Source: Em in Anon 2008, np link).

[The band] envision a society where vulnerable group[s], especially women, are supported by public services, treated with respect and dignity and have the opportunity to equally participate in society free from discrimination (Source: Anon nd, np link).

‘Poor countries are kept in the dark,’ they sing. Through privatisation, the government has stolen everything from the people, and resold it, they sing. They sing about the hundreds of thousands of women who had to leave rural areas to work in factories to earn below liveable wages (US$50-100 per month) and send a bit back home. Along the way these women are exploited, abused, and repressed (Source: Pearson 2015, np link).

'We went away from our mothers to be employed as household servants, construction or garment workers; we don't have a choice because of our families, we lost the land and the money problems still remained; even if we work hard we can't help at all,' run the lyrics to the MB song No Choice [watch here] (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[Their song ‘Goodbye my Friends’ goes] … This is my life story; away from home because of my family's living situation. Homeless and landless; parents also divorced; I've become so lonely. … What can I rely on? Landless and living in star[v]ation; forcing my to become a garment factory worker; bad reputation; the owner committed inhumanity and continues to exploit his workers. ... Oh! It s so tragic, my fate; the rented room was burned; my whole body, skin, veins, arms and legs were also putrid and seriously hurt. … As the fire was bursting into flame, we and our friends swiftly rushed; screaming for help from the hospital; when the ambulance arrived they didn't care about the hurt people; they first asked if we had money to pay; they didn't care about our human lives. … Because we are poor, garment workers; they didn't care about us even dead or alive unless we could give them money. Oh! Human life is cheaper than money. … Because my friends wanted me to be alive; they tried hard to save me; unfortunately we can no longer meet each other; stop crying my friends; say goodbye forever (Source: Kvan nd, np link).

[The lyrics to the song] Worker Tears (Composed and sung by women workers) … [go] … Why do my tears fall down? Do all of you know? I try to work hard with no rest, because of my family is poor. … When I get sick, I hurry to ask permission to get treatment, but my boss shakes their head and says NO! Oh my goodness, they are cruel and never think about us. This is the life of garment workers. We dare not take a day off because they will never allow it. We work though we are ill because if we dare to take leave, they will reduce our salaries. … Oh my tears please stop falling down because it solves nothing. As women, we have to be strong and overcome our hardship (Source: Socheata SIM 2004, p.59 link).

'Do you know how much garment workers suffer,' the MB ask in their song Cruel Karma. 'Forced by my boss to work overtime, I never stop, mum. I work and I never know if it s day or night. I budget my salary every month, but after rent, electricity, water and food, there isn't much left. This I send home to you' (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

‘The voice of garment workers must be used to shout to tell all Cambodian women that to be a servant is very difficult,’ they sing in one song … and all the more effective because of it. ‘We have no freedom and no rights’ (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

The [MB’s] Voice of Garment Workers [continues] We are all garment workers, we live in bad conditions, we struggle, with difficulty … The song that we sing is about the real life of garment workers, please pity us and consider the life of garment workers. How we are suffering? We are faced with suffering and problems because the factory owners exploit us. When the workers are in trouble, who can help to solve the problems? Where is justice? When I need you, why do you ignore me (Source: Moore 2012a, np link)?

[In their] song Solidarity to Protect Women's Rights [the MB sing]: ‘Being women we should not stand passively and behave ourselves. We should stand together and speak with one voice to promote women's rights. Women must be valued like diamonds’ (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

In the music video 'Land and Life [watch here],’ [singer] Vun [Em] stands in a boat as images of struggle are projected onto her face: Women fighting men in uniform. Thatch-roofed homes set aflame by soldiers. Rice paddies uprooted by bulldozers. For anyone over fifty, the images call to mind news footage of the Vietnam War. Young Cambodians see it as a war too. 'Because of dollars, we have lost our homes and lands,' Vun sings. 'With a war of words, we have been evicted, beaten, and abused. Dollars are the weapons.' Images of police with truncheons raised, flash on her face. Bloodied protesters lie on the ground by her feet. 'Using all means, they confiscate our land where we used to live peacefully.' Images of women cooking for children in squatter camps. 'The land must be returned to the people' (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

It sounds much better in Khmer, of course (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

The Messenger Band [also] sings songs intended to advocate for members of the sex industry, which itself is directly linked to the Cambodian national beer companies, who hire women to distribute their wares and provide other entertainments for customers. They are called beer girls (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

The MB song Sex Work is Work summarises the band's stance: ‘Even though we are sex workers, what's wrong with that? We just sell our bodies. We do not steal or rob anyone. No law says that we are wrong. Sex workers face suffering every day. We earn in one day one day's survival. Why do the police arrest us?’ … (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Although the bands biggest following is mainly comprised of local rural communities working in the garment sector, the band also compose and sing songs on the struggles of farmers in Cambodia as well as also HIV/AIDS prevention songs. Their lyrics represent the female voice behind these hardships, giving women the chance to feel heard and acknowledged. Gender discrimination is a serious concern in Cambodia, with a lack of protection and equality for women, both publically and legally; these conditions combined with the irregularity and exploitative employment sectors increase women s vulnerabilities and are a core focus for the Messenger Band and their partners (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

Music and art are a part of people's lives [in Cambodia]. … The Messenger Band s work is very important for mobilizing people. It raises awareness, and it's fun at the same time (Source: Mark in McKay 2015, np link).

[That’s] why they incorporate dance, theater, and comedy into their concerts (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

[They] choreograph … moves to accompany their laments (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[The band] play about 15 times a year in Cambodia -  small concerts with hired musicians in the cities and fewer but larger shows (up to 1,000 in the audience) in the countryside (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

I want [audiences] to be able to see this with their own eyes, not just on TV (Source: Em Vun in McKay 2015, np link).

Villagers are riveted: the subjects of these songs are their daughters, their nieces, their friends. More interesting, the subjects of the songs are also members of The Messenger Band (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

Inspiration / Technique / Process / Methodology

In Cambodia, an estimated 500,000 … (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

… [or] 700,000 [people, m]ost of [whom] are women … (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

… [or maybe] 300,000 [are] women … (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

… are employed in garment and shoe factories … (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

… [which comprise] the nation's third-largest industry (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[In this sector, Women’s] labour accounted for 80 per cent of the country's exports last year - US$5.75 billion worth, according to Ministry of Commerce figures … (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

… directly supporting in the process over 20% of the nation's 14 million inhabitants by sending money back home to farming families (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[Y]oung women are often sent by parents to the city for this express purpose (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

For many women in poor rural areas such as Prey Veng, [MB member] Nam Sophorshome province, the garment industry remains the only feasible alternative to informal employment or agricultural work (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[The choice they have is to] take on the lowest paid jobs in society as garment or sex workers, or remain isolated from economic opportunity in rural farming communities (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

Sometimes [their] proof-of-age documents are forged, and always the girls are pulled from school - and many aren't prepared. For the hard labor. For the big city. For being away from family. Or for the corruption. Although it's an illegal charge, many workers report having paid interview fees of around $50 to be considered for their jobs. New arrivals in the city don't have that kind of money - it's close to a month's salary - and some visit high-interest money-lenders or take on illegal and dangerous work. Right off the bat (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[Then there] is the role women are expected to play in Cambodian society. The 18th-century poem Chbab Srey praises a model of submission for women in marriage and community life. The poem was pulled out of the school curriculum in 2007 but it is still considered by many as part of the Khmer way. ‘[Chbab Srey] is often used to legitimise violence towards women and prevent them from attaining political power and social equality,’ says Trude Jacobsen, a US-based academic who recently published a translation of the full text. … One of the verses of the poem tells women their skirts shouldn't make any noise when they walk; an impracticality for factory workers. ‘How can we be soft and delicate and at the same time work as fast as they order us to,’ asks [MB member] Nam Sophors … ‘The management prefer women to work in the factories because they think women are weaker, softer, less demanding, easier to control [than men],’ says [The MB’s] Vun Em. ‘Women are starting to wake up but are not yet strong enough. They still have less power than men’ (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[W]orking conditions in [Cambodian] factories providing merchandise to international brands are poor, [according to] Human Rights Watch (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Workers in the factories are expected to meet a daily quota, which in most circumstances will result in an increased quota the next day. In the case where this assignment is not met, the employee will be issued a formal complaint and the working pressure will be intensified. In addition to this, the contracts issued to the workers are mostly temporary duration contracts, ranging from 3 to 6 months at a time. This places workers in a vulnerable situation as threats of non-renewal are often issued as a result of not fulfilling the set quotas, which require excessive working hours where overtime is expected. A regular shift begins at 7am, finishing at 6pm, however due to high quotas, overtime of 2 hours is ordinary, additional overtime is mostly also required and will often … consist of 2 further hours labour, resulting in a long 15 hour shift. As a result of these lengthy hours, employees must reside and be located in the vicinity of the factory. As a result of these lengthy hours, employees must reside and be located in the vicinity of the factory. This is often in areas factory owners have secured for their employees and therefore prone to a monopolisation of rent and utilities. This exposes employees to a number of vulnerabilities, as changes in salaries are also seen in the change of utility, rent and in some cases also surrounding market and food prices (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

Inflation … caused real wages to decrease by almost 20 per cent between 2001 and 2011, according to Washington-based labour rights monitoring organisation Worker Rights Consortium (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[In 2005] garment workers earned a base pay of $55 per month, when living wage in the country is nearly twice that. With overtime, many send home around $50 per month, but this still leaves large income gaps - even, again, under ideal conditions. And in 2009, 93 factories closed and 60 suspended work, leaving 68,190 workers - close to 20 percent of the force at last tally - out of jobs, according to official Ministry of Labour records (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

Work picked up slightly in 2010, with a few new factories opening up in the countryside, but strikes over the summer lead to layoffs of labor leaders in the fall and many were out of their already low-income jobs. Some turned to sex work, an industry - euphemistically called 'entertainment,' that boomed at the same time. So too, public health officials charged, did HIV rates (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

Labour conditions in the garment industry are monitored by Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), a programme run by the United Nations' International Labour Organisation that was implemented in 2001 as part of a trade agreement between the US and the Southeast Asian nation. BFC concluded in its most recent annual report, in June [2015], that, although many issues needed to be solved, 'significant improvements' have been made since the start of the programme. However, as far as Leng Leakhana - at 30, the youngest member of the [MB] - is concerned, the situation has deteriorated since 2003, when she began working in the industry (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

'The conditions for pregnant women were good [in 2003],' says Leng Leakhana. 'They weren't subcontracted like these days, personnel was fixed; after a year of working, they could ask for maternity leave and come back three months later with the same salary and benefits'  (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[Plus, ‘w]e had a very small salary but goods were much cheaper. After 2006, the number of [illegal] short contracts started to rise,' she says (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[I]n March [2015, Human Rights Watch] highlighted how short-term contracts were being used to avoid paying workers while they were on maternity or sick leave (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[All of this is happened in] one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International's 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Although its GDP has grown at an average of 7 per cent over the past five years, social inequality has skyrocketed, especially between rural areas and the urban elite, particularly those connected to the government (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[These i]ssues … have all contributed to worker discontent and have given rise to initiatives designed to raise awareness of the issues and to inform workers of their rights. One such initiative is the Womyns Agenda For Change, a locally run independent Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) dedicated to studying the effects of globalisation and poverty on people in Cambodia, most specifically garment industry workers. The NGO specialises in helping workers organise and advocate their rights and has a number of programmes dedicated to various campaigns (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

The [MB] … was formed in 2005 by [this] now-defunct Cambodian NGO … in order to bring the concerns of garment workers back to the provinces from which these young women originally come (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[They] held auditions for girls working in the garment industry (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

[The original MB line-up] Vun Em, Sothany, Chivika, Sompose, Somneang, [Leng] Leak[hana]] and Van Huon all work[ed] … in the weaving factories of Phnom Penh (Source: Dryef & Dina 2009, np link).

Political and protest singers in the Western sense were unknown until the Messenger Band began giving a voice to the voiceless in Cambodian society (Source: Saphan 2015, p.32).

Their concerns with this industry come directly from personal experiences and justify the passion and dedication they bring to their campaign (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

The singer and leader of the band, Vun Em, started to work at a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh when she was 16. She came from the province of Kampong Cham, in the east of the country, looking for better pay to help her family (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

Like other women in that trade, she faced sexual harassment, low wages and long hours (Source: Orleck-Jetter 2018, np link).

[A]fter sewing for five years, Em won an audition [to join the band in 2005] (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

Vun Em says that she … was educated and politicized by her exposure to global feminism. Vun was a teenage garment worker in Phnom Penh when she encountered an Australian Oxfam-funded NGO called Womyn's Agenda for Change (WAC). Soon she was organizing for a labor coalition they founded, United Sisterhood Alliance, and performing in an all-woman music group called the Messenger Band, singing about the lives of women garment workers. … Like so much of Cambodia s rural population, Vun's family was struggling to eke out a living growing rice. Then Cambodia leased one million acres of land to foreign companies for rice, sugar, and rubber plantations. Vun's family was no longer able to earn a living. Products grown for export were replacing subsistence farming. Farm families were violently evicted and tropical forests were cleared. Vun would later sing about those experiences. Like so many other young Cambodian women of her generation, she moved to Phnom Penh to find work in the garment industry to help support her family. At night, she returned to a labyrinth of windowless rooms enclosed by a six-foot- tall cyclone fence. When she learned that English classes were being offered by Womyn's Agenda for Change, Vun began burrowing under the fence for 5 a.m. classes. 'Other women couldn't understand why I wanted to go to school so early,' she says, 'but I needed to learn. And I did' (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

Kao Sochevika, 34, … has been with the band since its inception … [and] now works from home as a seamstress. She quit working at a factory in 2008, saying her health could no longer stand it. She works for the band part time (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

Vann Houn, 27, who joined the band in 2007, also stopped working in a garment factory, saying she almost fainted before quitting. She spends all her time with the band (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

If you need to see [Van Huon], you will find her at the Kings Land factory. She was made redundant a few months ago but the 24 year-old brunette now spends her days taking active part in a strike started in January in the factory following the firing of 17 employees, all affiliated to unions. 'The boss complained that we put our union involvement above work'. Since then, it is a real internal battle between unions which brought instability to the movement. The dispute got worse and there is no light so far at the end of the tunnel. Yet, Van Huon, who has not earned any salary for months, refuses to give up. 'There was 600 of us at the beginning of the movement. Now, we're only 13, but very determined to see things change. Being a member of the band encourages me to keep campaigning, because I know what my rights are' (Source: Dryef & Dina 2009, np link).

Nam Sophors joined the band when two of the original members quit, in 2007. Like every other member, she had to pass an audition attended by dozens of garment workers and organised by Womyn s Agenda for Change … She was then 27 and had spent eight years labouring in garment factories (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Chrek [Sopha] began working in a factory at the age of 16. … She explained that the reasons for having to start work so [young] was because both her father and mother had only ever worked in a factory and had never been able to afford to buy land. With a large family and no land investment, little choice remains for making a living (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

[Because MB members] are previously and currently working in the factories; … they devote their time to the band in some evenings and weekends to meet each other, talk about issue and … (Source: Anon nd, np link). 

… compos[e] songs about what [they] kn[o]w best - the abuses experienced by hundreds of thousands of women who decided to leave rural areas in the late 1990s to work for manufacturers in urban areas (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

We started to learn from ourselves, from our lives, why we needed to study, and why we needed to share our stories, our working conditions and how we could change things (Source: Vun in Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

Now, every time [Nam Sophors] sings No Choice, she can t help but cry, she says. The song takes her 'back to her own history' (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Why would garment factory workers start a band? … Why do you sing (Source: Anon 2015, np link)?

There is much pressure on the public in the form of restrictions to information sharing. People are scared and misinformed, this is our biggest challenge (Source: Vun in Schimetat 2014, np link).

People don't like to listen, especially when it comes to educational or sensitive topics (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link).

Workshops bore people so we turned to music. … We try to give voice to people through songs, to motivate them to reduce discrimination or end violence and exploitation. … The songs are their stories and they enjoy listening to them. We bring their stories to them (Source: Vun in Meas 2012, np link).

[S]inging is powerful, attractive, and intimate … but when we sing we can attract many people to actually listen to the songs and their lyrics. Singing is also a non-violent tool to demand and negotiate. We do not want to use explicit language or offensive behavior when we demand something. By using art such as drawing or singing we can advocate for our rights without being violent (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link).

Who is your audience and how to you reach them (Source: Anon 2015, np link)?

The band plays to two audiences. They appeal to the government while educating Cambodia's poorest populations. … Using familiar melodies from well known Cambodian songs to spread information, the band can easily reach their Khmer audiences (Source: Kvan 2015, np link).

What themes do you write and sing about? Please tell me about a specific song you have written and why it is important (Source: Anon 2015, np link)

Well it depends on what's happening at the time. For example, when garment factory issues were really hot we wrote an album of songs about their issues. We opened up about the worker story a lot. When farmer or sex-worker issues came up, we wrote songs about them as well. When there was a land conflict, we also had an album about it. We write these albums to encourage people not to lose hope (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link). 

I think that it s good if we write a song that's educate to the people. And also do advocacy through the song (Source: Vun in Moore 2012b, np link).

Advocacy toward what change (Source: Moore 2012b, np link)?

Oh, that's a good question. First, I want to see the change, like the garment worker respect by the law and support by the government and the investors. It s important for investment, they have to follow the law in Cambodia and they have to respect worker s rights (Source: Vun in Moore 2012b, np link).

How is the law not being followed in Cambodia (Source: Moore 2012b, np link)?

A lot of ways, like the forced overtime and the low wage. And have to ask permission for when they have to take leave or when they get sick. It's really difficult to take leave. And sometimes, they were dismissed by the company because they cannot go to work, like when they got sick, they have to go to the hospital. But the factory owners, they don't allow them to go. [In s]ome factories,  … [w]hen the workers fall unconscious …, when they awake from unconsciousness, they tell the worker that, you have to promise that you will not unconscious again, otherwise, you lose the job’ (Source: Vun in Moore 2012b, np link).

The band's headquarters are in an ordinary Khmer-style house, located behind palm trees, and with a large garage for the singersmotorbikes … [in] Phnom Penh, not far from one of the main manufacturing zones (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[Inside, t]he rehearsal room is a bright, spacious rectangular area on the second floor with big, southeast-facing windows. A mirror covers one wall. Other than a fan, a small, low table and a few short square stools, there is no furniture. Nothing hangs from the walls (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[T]he MB shares its office with three NGOs that tackle the same problems as they do. [Together, they sit u]nder the United Sisterhood Alliance umbrella (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

[This United Sisterhood Alliance comprises] The Women's Network for Unity founded by male, transgender, lesbian, and heterosexual female sex workers; WorkersInformation Center, an association of garment factory workers; Messenger Band, a musical band of garment factory workers; and Social Action for Change (SAC), a group of women activists whose aims are to build, strengthen, and support grassroots movements, workers, and women activists. These four groups decided to form an alliance; acquire a common space; and pool administrative, financial, and human resources so as not to recreate multiple systems of bureaucracy and overheads (Source: O’Malley & Johnson 2018, p.543-544).

The bulk of their budget comes from the Australian International Women's Development Agency, the Belgian NGO Oxfam Solidarity and two United States-based organisations - the Global Fund for Women and the McKnight Foundation (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

We don't take any money from [Cambodian prime minister] Hun Sen's administration, the opposition or unions, and we support only the protests that we consider legitimate (Source: Vun in Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

The specific activities the band is involved in are numerous and combine research, awareness raising, capacity building, community support and advocacy campaigns in an effort to alleviate the pressures on garment workers. They emphasise the importance of awareness raising and community support. Their main tool is music and songs, giving the initiative an edge and making them stand out from mainstream advocacy and awareness raising campaigns (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

One of the key elements to the band is to share the personal stories of those affected in order to strengthen communities and to encourage people to come together to end the exploitative aspects of the industry  (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

At least once a month, the band members visit some of the rooms rented by factory workers, to talk with the women, and sometimes to sing to them (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Setting off in crowded vans, the women of the Messenger Band bounce down pothole-pitted roads through the countryside (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

[T]hey visit communities facing challenges, gather information from them about the challenge, such as its cause and impact, and ask how it can be solved (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

They help rural parents understand the lives their daughters lead in the city and encourage those facing displacement to write and stage plays about their lives (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

[T]hrough our field visits … [w]e learned of the common problems of garment workers, sex workers and farmers [including] … poverty, exploitation and human right violation … (Source: Kun in Loomis 2014, np link).

… homelessness, debt, eviction, sex work, discrimination or poor health (Source: Sochevika in Meas 2012, np link).

Vun Em said it would be impossible to write the lyrics without getting the inspiration from the people (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

Em … records female garment workers telling their stories. These stories are then turned into songs, music videos and plays that help to educate the public about what marginalized women in Cambodia are facing (Source: Orleck-Jetter 2018, np link).

[But] visiting and communicating with the communities working in garment factories [can be challenging]. It has often been the case that the band members are refused access to these areas, or must ask permission before entering. In some occasions the safety of both band members and community members is threatened due to the message they wish to deliver. However, this is not the only reason for resistance in allowing the Messenger Band access to these areas, as in some cases gender becomes an issue. As an all female-band, this is often a prejudice they are faced with, yet despite this, their efforts have not been hampered. In most occasions this has been used to their advantage in drawing on a softapproach and has proved significant in times of negotiation (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

I visited [one of the group’s consciousness-raining groups] in an empty storefront, deep inside one of the dusty, rubble-strewn factory zones that ring Phnon Penh. At these Sunday afternoon sessions, women open up about sexual harassment in the shops, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual violence in the streets of their city. They study Cambodian labor law and learn which if the conventions passed by the International Labor Organisation have been verified by Cambodia. They learn about birth control and strategise about how to keep safe when returning home from work late at night. They are members of the global feminist organisation Safe Cities, and they use a special app they download free onto their phones that enables them to contact fellow workers if they are being threatened or harassed. ‘This is women’s solidarity,’ says Em. ‘It’s not at the service of any political party but simply a way to bring garment workers together’ (Source: Orleck 2017, p.xxii).

[Members of the band] also gather their material directly from the community by hosting collaborative music composition classes at the Workers Information Center (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

[W]e help community bands, like ourselves, to facilitate and help them share their stories through outreach activities. For example, we discuss farming issues or worker issues with them, perform concerts to raise awareness of their issues in their own rural communities and share these issues from village to village. Usually rural residence like to talk about trivial daily life. We try to push them to discuss pressing issues much as labor, sex-worker and land conflict issues to raise awareness and engage the community (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link). 

The [Messenger B]and travels frequently, performing in the poorer neighbourhoods of Phnom Penh and nearby provinces … (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

… where many of the garment workers come from, to inform families about the real conditions workers face in the garment industry, such as low wages and long hours, and to discuss why political action is necessary (Source: McKay 2015, np link)

[B]ut Cambodian bands don't tour like US ones do. … although it will be a late night by Cambodian standards - the concert will end around 9:30 and I'll get home around 11:30 - there's no drinking, drug abuse, or carousing going on (Source: Moore 2012b, np link).

[W]e go to their community to spread our songs and also other activities such as group discussion, outreach activity, and we also hold a concert once in a while along with cd-vcd giveaways and its lyrics booklets at those communities. We also share on social media, broadcast on radio and also through our alliance to make our voice heard especially to our government and leader (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link).

[In 2014] MB produced 500 T-shirts, 300 copies of the compilation of case studies under the title: 'My health is so important for me'. 500 copies of Vol.1 of MB s Karaoke those songs were; Don't be hopeless, No Choice , Stop Short Contract, Life of Street Children, Life & Occupation, Struggle [watch here], Who's Fail is it?, HealthCare Services, New Face of City and Enough. The Band also composed six of new songs: Right to Public Healthcare, 3rd January, Current Society, Until When, Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality and Mind is Different from Gender. … 483 T-shirts, 140 case study books, 34 song books and 324 CDs were distributed to garment workers, sex workers, villagers, NGOs workers, students, and some Cambodian and international media.  MBs songs: Don't be hopeless and Struggle, Sex Work is Work were also used in [Worker’s Information Center and Women’s Network for Unity] documentaries related to their living and working conditions. We were told by other NGOs friends and workers that some other songs were played in the radio programme but we are unable to control this because many people such as NGOs, community networks, students and media have received MB's songs. MB re-recorded … to improve the quality of sound and music of 11 songs … such as Women Tear, Gruel Karma, Life of probation worker, Real story of garment workers, Life & struggle, Tear of workers, Life of garment worker, Don't blame women workers, Life of Karaoke women, Voice of People living with HIV/ AIDS, and Together protect womens rights. This volume will be burned for distribution in early 2015. Those … materials were distributed to activists, community band in Svay Rieng, Kampong Spue, Kampong Cham and Prey Veng Province, To NGOs partners in Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, using during MB concerts and performances as well as for Rarity of Beautiful clothes campaign in Phnom Penh and Teachers and students at RUPP – The royal University of Phnom Penh (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.25).

[November 2012] Phnom Penh … ’The Messenger Band' perform[ed] during the [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations - aka ASEAN] GrassrootsPeople Assembly meeting at the so-called Freedom Park to share their findings after a series of workshops. The workshops, which were submitted to intimidations by the authorities, took place ahead of the ASEAN meeting attended by Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Wen Jiabao, Manmohan Singh and more heads of state (Source: Vink 2012, np link).

[March 2018] Phnom Penh … Civil society organizations in Cambodia celebrated International Women's Day (IWD) through arts and creativity with technical support from UN Women Country Office and with kind support from the Swedish Embassy. People from various backgrounds and ages came together, standing in line waiting to register their names to a festival under the slogan 'Strength of Cambodian Women'. … Approximately 400 people joined the festival, which featured performances and creative activities. These included a contemporary dance performance by the troupe New Cambodian Artists and music from The Messenger Band, reflecting Cambodian women's strength, courage and solutions to achieve gender equality. There was also a solidarity dance together with young artists from the Music Art School, as well as inspiring and engaging TED talks by young emerging leaders and the feminist tour at six booths representing six different topics namely: women at work; women in the media; women leading in the community; women's bodies: freedom from violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights; men engaging: men sharing responsibility; and beyond binary: LGBT rights and issues (Source: Leng 2018, np link).

[At one festival] I chat idly with [a] labor organizer from … the union for motodop and tuk tuk drivers, who tells me what's on the bill: The Messenger Band will be joined by a group of trans women, and in addition to songs, skits and dances will be performed. Plus, I'm told: a fashion show (Source: Moore 2012a, np link)!

As the sun went down the music roared on Tuesday when the Messenger Band took the stage at a pagoda in Svay Rieng province, about 10 kilometres from the provincial town. The seven women – all former or current garment workers – performed for about four hours, using music to raise awareness about a wide range of social issues, from evictions to migration and indebtedness (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

[The band] are decked in traditional Cambodian dress: red or orange sampot, gold-trimmed and elaborately folded; white silk top with lace, elaborate hair styles. Big movements in such outfits are not possible; these women will take small steps, make graceful gestures, never raising their arms above their heads triumphantly or bounding from one side of the stage to another. Gracefulness in Cambodian dance is about attentiveness to detail and extreme, if sometimes awkward and excrutiatingly slow, gestures. Slowly, then, the band opens with an appropriately introductory song about the town they have traveled from, Phnom Penh. When it was evacuated under the Khmer Rouge, the town stood empty for nearly four years, during which property laws were abandoned. When people began resettling again in the capital city, they simply found a convenient, or nice, place to hang out. Who was going to deny them the right? There was no more paperwork to prove otherwise. At some point, under the Vietnamese, the still-reforming government had to just acknowledge: wherever you live now, you own it. Establishing any other order would have undone the fragile peace process, and further instilled a mistrust of the foreign, occupying, government. And yet, today, land issues still arise, regularly. There is little order, less work. Construction and garment work form the only cohesive way of making a living for most. This, I gather, is the gist of the song (Source: Moore 2012b, np link).

They … earnestly describe what each number [is] about: forced labour, domestic sexual violence, being orphaned because of AIDS, land grabbing and so forth, then, when the audience [is] thoroughly depressed, launch into these astonishingly beautiful songs, the voices rising ethereally up into the night skies. It [is] sublime beyond belief (Source: rupertwinchester 2015, np link).

On Tuesday night two songs about people being forced to leave their villages to find work were performed - No Choice and Life and Work - as the band knew that such migration would be common [here]. 'Awareness should be raised because it s very important. If people, for instance, dont know much about migration, they may be at risk. If they listen to these songs, they will know more about migration, so their lives won t be at risk. We expect people will learn from these songs and follow them in their life,' [MB member] Vann Houn said (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

Everyone sits, patiently. There is no crowding the stage, no stage diving, no mad dash to touch the performers. Occasional expressions of affection do occur: a fan will approach the stage, formally, to hand a bouquet to the singer, who will pose patiently with it and/or the giver while pictures are taken. A wide berth stands always between the edge of the stage and the audience (Source: Moore 2012b, np link).

We can see that some of them are trying to learn MB's songs after they have heard at the concert (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.24).

[Next] a few players get up and perform a skit about domestic violence and alcohol abuse. It is a typically didactic Cambodian performance … [P]layed for laughs, the man of the family - his wide moustache a giveaway for province drunk - fights with his wife. She needs money for health care, so she goes to the town moneylender - usually a woman, who lends freely, but at very high interest rates. When a payment comes due, she asks her no-good husband for it, but, he says, this is not his problem. He threatens her, physically. Although comedic, this scene is common enough that it's not necessarily taken as such. A small boy in the front row cries, real tears. Why does that woman have such a hard life, he asks? The answer is the purpose of The Messenger Bands skit, but also the thing they cannot say outright. The answer is that a deeply corrupt, generations-old system has allowed for no safety net for the majority of Cambodians, leaving them without options under duress, save burrowing deeper into financial insolvency and taking their frustrations out on each other (Source: Moore 2012b, np link).

It is … important for [this] softer approach to be taken… [because] Cambodia is renowned for experiencing outbreaks of protests and strikes in response to the treatment of workers in the garment industry, despite the illegality of public demonstrations. Public gatherings and protests are illegal in Cambodia and previous demonstrations in response to the treatment of workers in factories have had negative and sometimes violent implications, resulting in the temporary detainment of those who gather in public spaces (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

At the end of December 2013, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

GRASSROOTS protestors, folk songs and labor rights activists converged at Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh last week as garment workers campaigned to raise their minimum wage from $80 a month to $160. After the Ministry of Labor approved a wage increase to $95 a month, trade unions and workers took to the streets, demanding $160. According to rights activists, the approved $95 wage is simply not enough to live on. So the campaign continued, galvanized by the support of Cambodia's opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which had joined the protest in support (Source: Loomis 2014, np link).

[The MB] supported the protest. Sothary Kun, [the MB] singer known as 'Ty Ty', … [told us that] 'MB and WIC [Workers Information Center] discussed the strategy of supporting peaceful protests by garment workers demanding a minimum wage of 160 dollars a month, so it is very important for us to be there together with the workers' … 'We sang a number of songs to encourage and keep workers together while they were protesting in front of the Labour Ministry. We also distributed lyrics of songs related to workers, so that they could sing along' (Source: Tolson 2014, np link).

[MB members Chrek Sopha and Nam Sophors] sang from the top of tuktuks to encourage protesters to stay together and not use violence (Source: Vun in Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

[They were] in front of the Ministry of Labour, in Phnom Penh, on top of a tuk-tuk, with a microphone in hand. The girls think that, perhaps, they were singing one of their most popular songs, The Struggle. ‘Where the oppression is, the workers must stand up, fight back every time. Solidarity will bring us victory. An old saying says, A bunch of chopsticks is hard to break.Victory is never easy to get. Oh workers, please join the struggle,' is the rallying chorus (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

Chrek said 'I witnessed the workers' peaceful strike at around 9:30AM on Jan. 2, when my colleagues and I travelled around the factory compounds located on the outskirts, including the place where the clash happened. 'I stopped by and saw them gathering in front of the Canadia Special Economic Zone near the local market. Workers who joined the strike were singing and dancing and chanting their message' (Source: Tolson 2014, np link).

The Messenger Band s singers were with striking workers [the following day] … when officers from the much feared 911 Brigade special forces unit fired shots at the group, killing four protesters (Source: Perez-Solero 2015b, np link).

[They] shot and killed five garment factory workers and injured over 30 others (Source: Loomis 2014, np link).

Chrek Sopha and Kao Sochevika arrived on the scene after the worst had happened. Smoke rose from flaming tyres. Stones and shoes littered blood-soaked roads as protesters ran amok. Angry workers tried to take tools and bottles of petrol from nearby stalls. Gunshots filled the air as men in uniform chased the protesters and fired at them with automatic rifles. … That day, the Messenger Band … decided to compose a song. ‘Most of the people didn't think about the violence, they were not afraid to die, they just stayed together facing the police, they were very strong. Even after the sound of the shots, they still moved ahead and didn't back down,' recalls 35-year-old Chrek Sopha, one of the group's members (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

‘Memories still come back every time I cross that road,’ says band member Kao Sochevika, 31 (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

‘The protest … created a lot of fear, it took a lot of time for people to understand,’ says [the MB’s] Nam Sophors. ‘Now it seems like every action, even when its led by the youth, ends in jail time’ (Source: Perez-Solero 2015a, np link).

On June 1, 2014, six months after [the] garment workersprotest in Phnom Penh ended in smoke and blood when police shot into the crowd, 150 Cambodian garment workers staged a fashion show. They advertised on wall posters around the city. Over pictures of the latest fashions, jagged words splashed: Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

During the 'Beautiful clothes, Ugly Reality' fashion show, … the [Messenger B]and … took part of the performance - [singing] two songs …: Empty Drum and Wake Up. [One] song was powerful describing the bloodshed and violence of the government crackdown on protestors because of power games and another song was to encourage people to stand up fighting back the oppression (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014 p.24-25).

[See our page on the ‘Beautiful Clothes, ugly Reality’ fashion show here]

Are you nervous being an activist in Cambodia (Source: Moore 2012b, np link)?

Hmmm, a little bit. … But if we don't stand up, no one hear the story. And that's why we have to stand up and share some information about the poor people in Cambodia. We have to stand up and speak out, otherwise we die. I don't want to be a famous person, but I want my song, I want my information to become recognized by the big people, and be respected. And provide the rights to those people. For me, I don't want to be famous, but I want our people here to get enough rice, enough food to eat, and they have the right to demand their rights (Source: Vun in Moore 2012b, np link).

On a recent Sunday evening, just off Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh, where four protesting garment workers were shot to death by police in January 2014, a crowd gathered for a small community concert. Against the backdrop of the high concrete and barbed wire walls of a garment factory, a well-lit stage hosted comedy, theater, dance, and music acts. The crowd drew onlookers as the evening progressed and the audience - many of them employed at the factories themselves - laughed, sang, danced, and clapped along. Though the mood was jovial, the issues addressed in the lyrics and scripts were serious: poor health care, wages that are barely enough to survive on, long workdays, and the pollution of their country's natural resources. This is the ideal evening for the Messenger Band, an all-female grassroots NGO made up of former garment workers who educate and mobilize laborers through music and entertainment (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

[Vun] Em says that her identity as a performer, singer, and dancer helps her to avoid arrest in an increasingly repressive Cambodia. Local police are suspicious of garment workers’ gatherings, she says, fearing that they will become protests. ‘I am just here to play my music,’ she tells them, feigning innocence. ‘It’s just a show.’  … Em has had to display breathtaking courage. Colleagues and friends have experienced beatings, detentions, even death (Source: Orleck 2017, p.xii).

The Messenger Band plans to discuss new strategies and set priorities in early 2016, but the most crucial aspect of its work - mobilizing workers at events where they can enjoy themselves and have fun - remains constant, according to Em. ‘When they hear these songs, they feel they are not alone’ (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

Discussion / Responses

They’re clever and creative women who not only can produce their own music, they can also produce their own lyrics. That makes me, as a listener, feel all the emotions carried in their music (Source: Lu Thy in Perez-Solero 2017, np link)

Their voices and performance touched my soul! I could feel their emotions (Source: Sorn 2019, np f)!

Great singing, these people sang truly from their hearts. Love and Peace (Source: Manny 2009, np link)!

This is awesome. A Cambodian pop song about Suffering from Privatisation [watch here] (Source: Phillips 2015, np link).

This song is very moving. I m listening to it over and over. Wish there's something we can do about it (Source: Nutty 2010, np link). 

Although I don't understand the words but I can feel the rhythm. Khmer and Laos have lots in common both suffered greatly through decades of warfare inflicted our corrupted leaders. Very sad indeed (Source: Manny 2009, np link)!

Sooner or later the corrupted will pay for what they are doing to the people. No one lives forever (Source: Khmerarmy, 2008, np link).

Recognize the character and courage of the members of the Messenger Band who give a voice to the oppressed people of Cambodia (Source: Java2shot, 2010 np link).

They are very brave women to tackle such an inflammatory political issue in a country where women have been jailed for protesting against forced evictions (Source: Saphan 2015, p.32).

Thanks to the Messenger Band members for their courage in facing the evils of corporate exploitation in their society (and the world). This is a brave thing to do (Source: Nanaverm 2011, np link)!

Everyone wake up! Don't be ignorant, we need solidarity for change! Sing the Messenger Band from #Cambodia (Source: Guttal 2019, np link).

Oh shut up (Source: ?? 2009, np link)!

Please take a break,  I am the Director of these videos,  I feel honored to work with the Messenger Band on these projects. Save your anger for the mistreatment and loss of the poor and working class of Cambodia When families lands are stolen and sold to International Corporations. Recognize the character and courage of the members of the Messenger Band who give a voice to the oppressed people of Cambodia. Regards (Source: Java2shot 2010, np link).

Watching an entire village gather in a field in a southern province of Cambodia to celebrate, feed, and entertain trans women and an all-girl pro-labor and human rights musical group is so far beyond anything I have ever experienced in the American punk underground that I spend some time alone recalibrating what I mean by the word 'awesome' (Source: Moore 2012a, np link).

[At rural concerts, audience members] don t always understand why we are protesting,’ says Em. ‘We get the families who sent their daughters to work in the factories to talk to each other more about what it s really like’ (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

When the audience hears lyrics they can identify with, says Vun Em, 'they ask, where is this music coming from? It encourages them to reach out to each other, even if it s just to make friends' (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

[At one concert, t]he songs hit home, sparking bursts of applause and shouts from the audience of about 1,000 people. 'I never heard anyone singing about being in debt to a microfinance institute,' audience member Hem Sokloeun said, noting that many of her neighbours were juggling loans from different lenders. 'I also like the songs about the migration for work because two of my children left home to work in Phnom Penh.' Kruos commune chief Net Sanin agreed that the first concert in his commune was a hit because it was so topical. 'Every family has one or two members who have left to find work in other places,' he said, noting that his commune in Svay Chrom district was prone to drought as well as periodic flooding. With no irrigation in the area, farming households are dependent on rainfall for their one annual rice crop. If the rain does not fall, or there is too much, they are left without food or money to repay debts accrued while waiting for the harvest, he explained. Precarious livelihoods in rural areas are the root cause of the social issues the Messenger Band sings about (Source: Meas 2012, np link).

Impacts / Outcomes

In what capacity do you see The Messenger Band having an impact on workers lives in Cambodia (Source: Anon 2015, np link)?

We cannot measure our impact for sure but overall we see a lot of positive change. We see workers using our songs during protests outside factories. They use the songs to communicate their demands, asking for a salary raise, etc. Also, now we see workers who previously did not care or were too tired to get involved [in social issues] change their minds and become active. We think it is because of The Messenger Band songs (Source: Messenger Band in Anon 2015, np link).

As some of [the MB’s] students took the stage on Sunday to sing songs composed in [the] classes, [they taught] as well as covers of Messenger Band songs, several people in the audience took out their phones to take pictures and videos. The Messenger Band's ultimate goal is to get garment industry workers to reflect on their lives and become more united in the process (Source: McKay 2015, np link).

Although this is still much a work in progress, the band hold much hope for the future of their activities and believe their efforts are being increasingly recognised, 'when we started out not many people wanted to get involved, but now we are seeing a lot more interest,' explains Leng. 'People understand more and demand more these days, we just provide them with a voice with which speak out with' (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

Despite these challenges, the band has already seen many changes, both from a personal and work perspective. 'At the beginning I had no idea about the extent of the issues garment workers face' Leng reflects on the beginnings of the Messenger Band, 'the more we do, the more we find out. That means the more we know, the more we do'. The bands perseverance in understanding and sharing people's experiences is paying off in more than just one way. Knowledge is a key to change, and changes are already being seen. The international community is becoming increasingly aware of exploitative industries and is demanding a change, with recent events concerning the ethics of the fashion industry being reported to a greater extent by the mass media. International brands are therefore also increasingly more aware of what their customers demand and focus on quality rather than quantity, affecting buying patterns that are shifting towards smaller, more frequent orders, as opposed to the previous larger bulk orders. This is beneficial mostly as it ensures better prices for the garments made, and should mirror the wages earned by workers. In addition to this, companies are keen to protect their reputation to guarantee their human rights conscious customers will remain faithful, leading to stricter guidelines and an effort to protect factory workers in developing countries. However aside from brands and the mass public, the local communities are also finding their voice. The Messenger Band not only share stories, but build capacity and strengthen the communities' participatory ability through a better understanding of their rights and situations. Given the contribution of all three major actors involved in moulding the garment factory and the increasing importance of workers rights and labour policies around the world, a shift is likely to be seen in the future. Despite this, much is still in need for development and garment factory workers remain vulnerable to exploitation. It is through many forms of knowledge sharing and awareness raising that changes can be made, of which the Messenger Band have already made progressive steps in the right direction (Source: Schimetat 2014, np link).

In a song called 'Fate of Garment Workers,' Vun Em summarizes the stories women clothing makers have told her: 'We are insulted by society. There is no pity for garment workers like us. We work from early in the morning till the dark of night. We work very hard to earn a few US dollars.' Workers tell her they like that song, Vun says, because 'it validates their feelings, their weariness, their frustration' (Source: Orleck 2018, np link).

When we put these issues into songs and sing them, they always say, Oh, that s my story! … (Source: Sochevika in Meas 2012, np link).

I really admired MB for jointly organise this wonderful concert which are very useful for our communities to understand more about domestic violence, debt issues, migration as well as general information about garment factory worker's life. The recognition of our authorities to these problems and concerns are also significant (Source: Mom in United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.23).

I really appreciate MB team that spent a lot of energy to organise this concert. So, I am pleased to encourage to all villagers to pay more attention and think deeply to MB s songs and performance highlighting the pictures of the debt our villagers face today and the importance of the education. We must help encourage our children to start enrolling and continuing their study for their better future because it is the great wealth and no one can steal you knowledge (Source: Chan in United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.23).

It is our first time seeing a very different of concert with meaningful contents and messages from songs and performances telling real stories of many of us here. We were very shocked to see it. We hope that you will come to organise this event again (Source: Three unknown villagers in United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.23).

[At a series of m]ini concerts in Phnom Penh … [audience members] are motivated by songs calling for the collective voice to make positive change in improving their working condition (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.24).

'Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality' was a powerful event that inspired the [Messenger] Band, [United Sisterhood Alliance] and workers … to continue our activism with creative activities, especially cultural arts as one of the powerful weapons to mobilise and keep hop[e]s of people s struggle (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014 p.28).

More and more community artivists [in Cambodia] continue to use cultural arts in order to spread the social problems and demands for improvement in their local level and national coverage … [W]e could say cultural arts [have] became popular now for social and political awareness raising and MB is very touched by [this] improvement. More or less MB is probably having some influential factor toward this change (Source: United Sisterhood Alliance 2014, p.23).

References / Further Reading

Anon (2008) Messenger BandSings for the Voiceless. VOA Cambodia, 14 October( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Anon (2015) The Messenger Band. Primary voice, 14 August ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Anon (nd) The Messenger Band Cambodia. ( last accessed 21 October 2019)

Dryef, Z. & Dina, R. (2009) Messenger Band: seven textile workers set to music their daily life in Cambodia., 20 April( last accessed 28 August 2020)

Editor1 (nd) Meta House - Four shorts from the factories. SewonArtSpace ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Guttal, S. (2019) Everyone wake up! Don t be ignorant, we need solidarity for change! Sing the Messenger Band from #Cambodia., 10 September ( last accessed 18 October 2019)

Java2shot (2010) Comment on The Messenger Band (2008) Land and Life (featuring Kung Nei). ( last accessed 24 October 2019)

Khmerarmy (2008) Comment on The Messenger Band (2008) Land and Life (featuring Kung Nei),, 17 September ( last accessed 24 October 2019)

KI Letters (2008) Suffer from Privatisation - The Messenger Band., 29 September( last accessed 24 October 2019)

Kvan, M (2015) Cambodia's first protest band takes aim at the fashion industry, ( last accessed 17 October 2019)

Kvan, M. (nd) The Messenger Band. Primary voice ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Leng, S. (2018) 2018 International Women's Day in Cambodia: celebrating women's strength. UN Women Asia and the Pacific, 15 March ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Loomis, E. (2014) The Cambodian crackdown. Lawyers, guns & money, 11 January ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Manny (2009) Comment on The Messenger Band (2008) Land and Life (featuring Kung Nei), ( last accessed 24 October 2019)

McKay, Z.K. (2015) Ex-garment workers are rocking out for women's labor rights in Cambodia. takepart, 18 December ( last accessed 18 October 2019)

Meas, R. (2012) Music with a message. The Phnom Penh Post, 27 April ( last accessed 28 August 2020)

Moore, A.E. (2012a) The Messenger Band tour diary., 23 January( last accessed 17 October 2019)

Moore, A.E. (2012b) Holiday in Cambodia,, 31 January( last accessed 17/10/19)

Morrissey, M. (2014) Sothary Kun sings. YouTube, 13 May ( last accessed 28 August 2020)

Nanaverm (2011) Comment on KI Letters (2008) Suffer from Privatisation - The Messenger Band., 29 September( last accessed 24 October 2019)

Nutty (2010) Comment on KI Letters (2008) Suffer from Privatisation - The Messenger Band., 29 September( last accessed 24 October 2019)

O Malley, D.L. & Johnson, R. (2018) A young feminist new order: an exploration of why young feminists organise the way they do. Gender & Development 26(3), 533-550

Orleck-Jetter, E. (2018) Helping marginalized women in Cambodia., 12 October ( last accessed 17 October 2019)

Orleck, A. (2017) Common Sense and a Little Fire, Second Edition: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Orleck, A. (2018) 'We are all fast-food workers now': the global uprising against poverty wages. Boston: Beacon Press ( last accessed 31 August 2020)

Pearson, T. (2015) When the makers of your clothes sing. Resistance worlds, 30 November ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Perez-Solero, R. (2015a) Rallying cry: Cambodia's all-female rock band of ex-garment workers. Post magazine, 12 November ( last accessed 17 October 2019)

Perez-Solero, R. (2015b) Messenger Band Cambodia, a group of female workers singing for their rights. EFE Newswire, 1 October ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Perez-Solero, R. (2017) Messenger Band (MB) Kampot Writers and Readers Festival 2016 (Khmer subtitles)., 9 January ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Philips, B. (2015) This is awesome. A Cambodian pop song about Suffering from Privatisation. By the Messenger Band., 24 June ( last accessed 18 October 2019)

rupertwinchester (2015) Kampot yet again. The mighty Penh, 16 November ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Saphan L. (2015) From modern rock to postmodern hard rock: Cambodian alternative music voices. Ethic studies review 35(23), 23-39

Saphan, L. (2017) Cambodian popular musical influences from the 1950s to the present day. in  Shin, H. and Lee, K. (eds) Sounds from the periphery: modernity and development of Asia pop 1960-2000. Seoul: Chaeryun, 262-296

Schimetat, L. (2014) Rocking for their rights: 'The Messenger Band' campaigns for workers in Cambodia s garment industry. Mekong Commons, 3 September ( last accessed 18 October 2019)

Socheata SIM (2004) Report on the health status of women workers in the Cambodian garment industry. Phnom Penh: Womyn's Agenda For Change ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Sorn, M. (2019) The Messenger Band Cambodia., 4 July ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

Tolson, M. (2014) Fashion backward: Cambodian government silences garment workers. Inter Press Service, 9 January ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

United Sisterhood Alliance (2014) Strengthening the impact of the social organisations to ensure justice and equality. Phnom Penh: United Sisterhood Alliance

Up Srei Media (2015) The Messenger Band Cambodia - Struggle., 27 February ( last accessed 25 October 2019)

Vink, J. (2012) ASEAN Warmup… >> ASEAN Grassroots People Assembly meeting., 15 November ( last accessed 11 August 2020)

?? (2009) Comment on The Messenger Band (2008) Land and Life (featuring Kung Nei), ( last accessed 24 October 2019)


Compiled by Lily Bissell, Grace Hodges, Fran Ravel, Julia Sammut & Ellie Reynolds for the Geographies of Material Culture module at the University of Exeter. Edited by Ian Cook (last updated August 2020). Procuct photo by Jennifer Lea.