The US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday hosted a workshop that explored disabilities in the arts, with the panel discussion featuring American band Flame, who are gaining popularity among Cambodian youth.
At the workshop, participants discussed experiences, challenges, and opportunities for people with disabilities in the United States and Cambodia. It provided insights into the impact individuals can have in promoting diversity and inclusion in their schools and communities.
Flame is a high-energy American cover band that performs globally, playing classics through to today’s hits. Formed in 2003, they gained popularity through appearances on Good Morning America and People Magazine.
The musicians all have disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness, and paralysis. However, their disabilities do not hold them back. Flame’s mission is to change the world through music. They inspire people with disabilities and help increase awareness and acceptance of all people, regardless of their differences.
Flame’s director, Maria Nestle, said during the workshop, "All members of Flame, we always have conversations within our work, which is described as promoting people with disabilities to the world. We are so happy to tour in Cambodia, where our voices are heard and encourage people who feel hopeless in their lives."
Nestle added that the world is moving towards a better situation in terms of providing more care and diversity. She emphasised the importance of sharing love and people opening their hearts to listen.
Comparing Cambodia to America, Maria noted, "In the US, I can see transportation is getting better, but for other accessibility, including ambulances, there is still work to be done to make it easier for people with disabilities to move around."
She added, "All Flame members tried so hard to reach this level. They faced many challenges, including depression, pressure from people around them, and hurt. But after struggling together, both in discussions and producing our products [songs and performances], we have made a breakthrough, and the world has seen and heard us."
The director urged Cambodians to continue to pay attention and prioritise people with disabilities. They need motivation and education that can lead them in the right direction, including finding specific careers. People with disabilities cannot choose the circumstances they were born into, so it is essential to create a more inclusive and beautiful world for them to live in, she said.
Michelle King, lead vocalist and guitarist, shared her story of being born with autism and discovering her special talent at an early age. She inspires Cambodia with her tour and believes that Flame and Lexington have helped her make a difference in the lives of other people.
Vocalist Adrienne Philips expressed her happiness and pride in the support she has received from the Cambodian youth, despite being blind. She emphasised that Flame has given her an outlet for her love of performing, travelling, and meeting new people.
David Lagrange, drummer and vocalist, shared his belief in keeping the flame of hope burning through the band’s music. Despite being blind, he never gave up on his dream of being in a band and now enjoys sharing his extraordinary drumming skills and vocal talents with others.
Andrew Carpenter, singer/vocalist, shared his journey from a shy person with autism to finding his ability and confidence through singing. Being part of Flame has transformed him into a charismatic and confident performer, providing him with opportunities he never would have imagined.
Flame has a busy schedule, touring the greater Northeast area and beyond in a custom bus. They perform concerts at various events, including conventions, conferences, schools, dances, and private parties.
With a repertoire of more than 100 classic rock, pop, country, and blues songs, as well as original tracks, they have produced six albums and two singles in their 20 years of work.