Cultural Exchanges and Musical Communities

White Building

Phnom Penh has been full of some pretty amazing surprises. From walking through the city and braving its traffic madness, indulging in all sorts of beautiful authentic Khmer dishes, and admiring the incredible architecture that has been strongly influenced by French colonialism, this city offers travellers all kinds of excitement at every turn. Away from these cultural experiences, we have found ourselves to be apart of a small, yet vibrant music and arts community in Cambodia’s capital city. Chris L.P and I have been warmly welcomed into the organisation Cambodian Living Arts (CLA), an NGO that aims to empower individuals and communities through traditional Khmer arts.


This cultural exchange is exciting, as it will enable us to work closely with 3 traditional arts troupes and see how two cultures can learn from one another. One of the CLA troupes is called the Children of Bassac, which is named after the White Building in Phnom Penh, and the community that inhabits it. The residents of Bassac are perceived socially as a slum community, and are often “cloaked in stigma associated with poverty, drugs, sex work and petty crime”. However, as the White Building’s website suggests, the Bassac community is a thriving society that houses 2500 residents, including master musicians, classical dancers, civil servants and street vendors. This has made it one of the most energetic communities in Phnom Penh that flourishes in artistic production.

Children of Bassac are a troupe comprised of children and teenagers that live in the building, and are a community approach to sustaining Khmer dance traditions. The White Building and its Bassac community are a controversial topic within Cambodia currently, as the building has been under constant threat of demolition by the government due to its prime location in Phnom Penh. Decade long debates between supporters of the Bassac community and the Cambodian government encompass issues of forced eviction, unfair compensation and lack of community consultation. Whilst local and international awareness and support of the White Building has ensured that the Bassac community remain in their homes, they live in a continual space of uncertainty and powerlessness.


Walking past the White Building, you can see the vibrant community that lives within its ageing walls. Street vendors flood the pathway to the building, selling anything from cigarettes to refilled Pepsi bottles of petrol, patiently waiting for their next customer. From the outside, all floors of the White Building are littered with makeshift clotheslines, each strewn with colourful garments of the Basaac families. It is within these walls that the Children of Bassac have formed, performing their classical and folk dance traditions about Khmer life to the public. The troupe also performs to an international audience, at CLA events that are hosted by the National Museum in Phnom Penh.


Here is a video of the Children of Bassac performing at the National Museum in Phnom Penh:

If you would like to find out more about this incredible troupe, visit their Facebook page and give them a like!



  1. Wow thats amazing that the children also perform there Jessie. I wasnt aware of this. Have you been able to organise a visit inside?


  2. This post is highly interesting Jessie! There is so much to take into consideration on this matter.


  3. Thanks very much for your post Jessie – very interesting. I can’t wait for us all to see the Children of Bassac (Heritage of Bassac) in performance at the National Museum during our stay!


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