Please introduce yourself: Where do you come from, and what did you do before you went to Cambodia?

I’m Aya, pianist and founder of MILO Cambodia. I’m from Osaka, Japan, and have been in Cambodia for 8 years. I debuted as a pianist in Japan and then decided to travel to Canada and stayed there for 6 months and after that I traveled to Cambodia and loved it so much.

How did you come to Cambodia and how was your life during the first time?

I found a website that said “Do you want to compose a song for Cambodian kids?” It sounded interesting, but I didn’t even know where Cambodia was at the time.  So I decided to come and see it first. When I came to Cambodia, I played the melodica in front of the kids. Then one of their mothers said “You can’t make money with music. Please teach our children Japanese or English.” I was shocked, and I found out that Cambodia doesn’t have music education in the primary school.

And I decided to move here.  In the beginning it was difficult for my mom and I. We fought a lot. But I was motivated to do this project. So I couldn’t go back to Japan easily. And now? My mom is happy… I hope! ;)

What are you doing now in Cambodia? How is your life, what is your job?

I’m doing three things now:

  1. Teaching music at international schools and local schools, and also privately. Now I have more than 300 students.
  2. Playing with my band “MILO”. We invited two talented Cambodian musicians. We’re playing Khmer nursery rhymes, but we arranged them to SKA music.
  3. Coaching music teachers. One of my students, he used to earn only 50USD a month. But now he got a job at a hotel as pianist, and teaching the piano as well. He now earns more than 200USD. I don’t want to say about money too much, but when I moved here, making money by music was “impossible” in the minds of many Cambodians. But now it’s possible, I hope they will have more musicians in this country.

You are the founder of MILO Cambodia. How did you found and what does MILO mean?

Actually MILO doesn’t have meaning. But I wanted have a name that started with the letter M, as in “Music”. And it had be short. Then somehow, I named my project MILO.

MILO is more than just a band. Please tell us, what you do.

So, under the name of MILO I also teach students and teachers. We go around Siem Reap in local schools and organizations. We want to show how fun and bright music is. We want show that music can bring fulfillment and joy. I feel that many Cambodians don’t have hobbies, music has great potential for that.

Some of our own members have a job, and after work they play music as a hobby. Also our bassist is 64 years old, and our tenor saxophone player is 62 years old. Music is for everyone and for all lifestyles.

Pupils have fun during the music lessons of Aya Urata
A new program for music at Cambodian schools, developed by Aya Urata
Aya Urata - she brings usic into schools in Cambodia

Cambodia is so called the Kingdom of Wonder. Why do you love Cambodia?

The place is easy going and laid back which sometimes makes me crazy as I’m “too Japanese” maybe. For example, our two Khmer member always disappear before the gig. I call them, they say “nyam baai! (I’m eating)”. I would love to be like them..only sometimes ;)

As you live in Siem Reap and a lot of tourists might not know a lot about this city, which is much more than Angkor and Pub Street. Please give our readers your three favourite tips where to go as well.

Musical recommendations:

  1. Of course check MILO live schedule on our website And join, if it’s possible :)
  2. Jazz in the city at Heritage suite every Thursday night. You will see amazing musicians with great atmosphere.
  3. Check youth center where is in front of Le Meridian Angkor hotel. They have around 100 high school students practice everyday 5pm to 6pm. Would be very nice to meet local young musicians!

Cambodia is still a poor country and needs help by others. What are you doing to support them?

Other than the MILO project, I donate blood regularly at Angkor Hospital for the Children and try to support other organizations whenever I can.

How can tourists support locals?

If you can stay long term, there is many possibilities. But if not, go to Angkor Hospital for the Children and donate your blood or support trusted NGO’s or other organizations. Your hotel might be able to help you with that.

For people from other countries who want to live in Cambodia as well: What is most important to know?

Respect Cambodian people and their culture. This is it. There are obviously many cultural challenges but embrace them instead of imposing your own culture.

What do you think about intercultural dialogue?

My partner is from Belgium, so we already have big gap. But it’s very interesting. For example, Japanese likes to be with Japanese always, because feel more comfortable. But Belgium obviously small country, so they don’t mind to be with any people. On top of that, they can speak so many languages which is great! He has so many friends from everywhere. And he has very open mind. I’m becoming more “Barang” minded.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that intercultural dialogue opens the mind. It helps to develop who you are and how you’re thinking and allows you to face many situations effectively.

And last but not least the most important question: What is your dream in life?

Showing Cambodian music all over the world!

Thank you Aya for giving us this interview. For those, who want to read more about her music project in Cambodian schools, we invite to read this article here in our blog.

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