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David Lamb: A Reporter Returns | The Next Generation | Doing Business in Vietnam
The Music Scene | Travel and Tourism | Landmines: War's Lingering Menace

Nhung Singing on stage
Listen to Nhung sing from her CD, Rutinh

Popular Music in Vietnam

In Vietnam today, patriotic odes to the glory of the revolution may still be heard at Communist Party meetings, but millions of ordinary Vietnamese opt for the modern pop songs being belted out on CDs and in nightclubs now flourishing in the country’s major cities.

Trinh Cong Son, the singer/songwriter profiled in “Vietnam Passage”, has inspired a whole new generation of Vietnamese singers. His star pupil and prodigy, Hong Nhung, is now one of the hottest acts in Vietnam. Nhung, 32, has experienced the rebirth of her country’s music scene first-hand. “Four to five years ago, the youth only wanted to listen to western music,” she explains. “Now young people probably listen to half Western, half Vietnamese music. And that is good – people should have more choice.”

Nhung herself sings in Vietnamese with Western-style rhythms, influenced by the likes of Motown great Aretha Franklin. Jazz themes predominate, and Nhung’s vibrato-free vocals soar. The signature tune from her most recent album Nhung album features a moody duet with a sax player—just one hint of the sophistication some of Vietnam’s top artists have attained.

Nhung in Concert

The popular "Queen Bee" nightclub in HCM

Most Vietnamese singers get their bread and butter from live appearances on television and in concert. For 50,000 dong (about $3.00), fans of all ages pour into concert halls to enjoy four-hours of nonstop music by Vietnam’s most popular male and female vocalists. As popular as these concerts are for the fans, they take their toll on the performers. They are forced to take up grueling tour schedules just to make ends meet, since Vietnam’s lax copyright laws mean that their CDs are often pirated and sold for very low prices- sometimes even before they are released to the general public!

Most tourists visiting Vietnam are introduced to only the traditional music of a bygone time featuring stringed instruments in odd shapes and sizes accompanied by high-pitched vocals. But to get a feel for what the Vietnamese themselves really listen to, one needs only to pop into a CD shop or tune in the radio where performers sing ballads of love and loss reminiscent of the style of Tony Bennett or Diana Krall.

Vietnam’s new sound has embraced western influences while staying true to its poetic heart. Trinh Cong Son would be proud of the contemporary music industry he nurtured.