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Daughter of Cambodia project becomes moving CD

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 11, 2011 - At the beginning of 2011, the Beacon asked me to take a look at three musicians to watch in 2011. Here's a look at what one of them, singer/songwriter Leslie Sanazaro - with the invaluable contributions of another, guitarist Teddy Presberg - accomplished this past year with the "Daughters of Cambodia" project.

According to Sanazaro, the project came into being after she read "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," a book by New York Times writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Sanazaro was deeply affected by the book, which exposed the pervasiveness and brutality of human trafficking and forced prostitution - especially in Southeast Asia.

As she told me during our interview for the earlier article, "I started to think about what I could do as an individual to at least raise awareness about human trafficking of young girls. I hadn't really written songs for about a year, and was actually thinking of taking a break from music. But suddenly song ideas began pouring out, and I decided I had to record a CD, get a tour going, raise awareness for this issue -- and also raise funds to help a school for girls in Cambodia."

Sanazaro recruited Presberg to assist on the CD, and he added his talents as a musician on guitar, bass and other instruments - as well as engineering and producing the project.

Now, after months of recording and a trip to Cambodia this past summer, Sanazaro has finally released her CD dedicated to the Daughters of Cambodia project. It's called "First We Cry, Then We Laugh," and it's available through the website, www.daughtersofcambodia.com. The CD will also soon be available at iTunes as well as in local record stores such as Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records and Webster Records.

As you might expect from a recording project with such a stark and intense subject, "First We Cry, Then We Laugh" is filled with songs that reflect the despair, fear, anger - and yes, also the courage and determination - of women caught in situations of exploitation and sexual slavery.

In her effort to communicate the emotion and feelings of these women through her lyrics, Sanazaro does not dwell on the darkness of their situations. Instead, there's always a focus on the ability to get beyond the pain and find healing through a community of support.

It's a difficult balance to achieve, but Sanazaro - with the support of Presberg and other talented musicians such as Dawn Weber, Eric Grossman, Kyle Honeycutt, Chris Schutz, Ryan Ashmore, Gavin Duffy and Leclare Stevenson - has made it work well throughout the CD.

Songs such as "These Things Do Not Define You," "Don't Have the Right" and "How Could You Know" stand out on a first listen to the recording. But on repeated listenings, the flow of the CD reveals deeper meanings and resonance in all the songs. (Link is to the song and information about the program.)

And thanks to Sanazaro's pure, emotive vocals and the clarity and transparency of Presberg's production, "First We Cry, Then We Laugh," is music for a worthy cause that has a lasting power and appeal for the listener as well.

All proceeds from sales of the CD will benefit AFESIP CAMBODIA: Acting For Women In Distressing Situations.

Sanazaro says plans are being finalized for a CD release concert after the first of the year. We'll update as information becomes available.

Terry Perkins is a free-lance writer who writer frequently on music. 

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.

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