Traditional Vietnamese music may have fused over millennia from a diversity of Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Japanese and local indigenous styles, but over the millennia it has developed very much its own sound, distinct from any other music in the world. The country’s long struggle for independence may have something to do with this; the focus on being “Vietnamese” has inspired both Vietnamese people, and a succession of nationalistic Vietnamese governments, to take pride in the qualities of traditional music.

Vietnamese cultures have always been in communication with others in the region, especially with those from China. One of the oldest forms of Vietnamese music is the Chinese-influenced Nhã nhạc
— imperial court music played over a successions of dynasties from the mid-13th century until the last Nguyá»…n Dynasty of Vietnam, which transferred power to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945.Â

Vietnamese “folk music” is a more recent development — it’s several hundred years old, rather than nearly a thousand. Though the unfamiliar Western ear may have a hard time distinguishing one style form another, there are distinct differences between them.
For example,

Quan há»: “alternate singing,” is an a capella, improvised style often used in courtship.
Hát chau văn:
a mesmerizing form of music sung in ceremonies to communicate with spirits.

dân tộc cẚi biên: Vietnamese folk that arose in the late 1950s when the newly founded Hanoi Conservatory of Music added Western instrumentation and harmony to traditional music.

During the country’s struggle for independence from the ’40s to the mid ’70s, the “Vietnamese” nature of Vietnam’s traditional music became much more conscious, with traditional composers such as Pham Duy emphasizing national themes. In Saigon in the late ’60s and ‘early ’70s, American soldiers fighting in the darkest days of the War shared their Western instruments, and their love for psychedelic rock, with next-generation Vietnamese musicians. These musicians may not have been as nationalistic, but they sure
did rock.

Since emerging from the very difficult time following the end of the Vietnamese War, the Vietnamese Communist government has giving more latitude to musicians who create in more than state-propagandistic styles. This freedom has enabled Vietnamese musicians to learn Western genres such as jazz, rock and hip hop and even develop their own form of popular music — V-pop! (For better or worse.)

More information:
Wikipedia on the music of Vietnam | An introduction to Vietnamese music | A “” overview of traditional Vietnamese music compilations available in the U.S.: “An aesthetic principle guiding Vietnamese art music is ‘chan, phuong, hoa, la. Literally this is “true, straight, flowers, leaves.” True and straight refer to studying a piece of music or its skeletal melody while the flowers and leaves refer to performance which incorporates embellishments and improvised flowering parts that deviate from the straight melody. This is where the skill and artistry of the performers come to light….”

In class we’re going to listen to:

— “Mua He Thuong Yeuâ€ by Mỹ Tâm
Known as “The Queen of V-Pop,” Mỹ Tâm has been a wildly popular Vietnamese Western-style pop singer since first big hit “Brown Hair Dark Lips (2001),” inspired girls all over Vietnam to dye their hair yellow like hers. She has followed the success of her early songs, which expressed the enthusiasm and optimism of Vietnam’s students and young artists, with romantic ballads and internationally-oriented dance tunes.

More information:
A blow-by-blow Wikipedia entry on Mỹ Tâm | Be one of Mỹ Tâm’s over 70,000 Facebook friends | For Mỹ Tâm and a young flood victim, things are looking up

— “Bừng Sáng (Dawn)” by Thai Thanh
In the late ’60s and early ’70s U.S. musicians created powerful psychedelic rock to protest the war in Vietnam. In Saigon, Vietnamese musicians, in close contact with American soldiers and their politically charged record collections, joined in the funky, raucous psychedelia and built an electrically-charged cultural underground. The recently released, “Saigon Rock & Soul: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974” is a raucous collection of long-lost tracks by long-lost acts like Bich Loan and CBC Band and Phurong

This unexpected Saigon scene scattered after South Vietnam fell to the North in 1975; the few tracks found on “Saigon Rock & Soul” are all that remain.Â

More information:
The amazing story of “Saigon Rock & Soul!” | “Saigon Rock & Soul” gets a great review

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