This post is the only one in the series without a YouTube video. In fact, here is the only online link to the recording that I could find, and the upload is hardly perfect. It’s true that I’d like to throw in one or two obscure songs in a list of mostly well-known tunes. Even there I was quite surprised at the Internet neglect of this song.
December 1, 2016: The link above still works, but I’ve just uploaded the song on YouTube and it has better audio quality.
Before going any further about the song, may I say a huge thank you to God – the Almighty, Fortune, what-have-you – for the fact that Phạm Duy and Khánh Ly, the song composer and vocalist in the recording, respectively, were among the 1975 wave of Vietnamese refugees.
Sad are those who lose their homeland and become refugees. Sadder are those who become refugees and do not have musicians to articulate their pain of loss. Horrible that it was in 1975, it could have been worse had there not been top-rated musicians like Phạm Duy and Khánh Ly. It’s hardly a surprise that they will reappear on this list later.
Second is my rationale for the inclusion of this song. Aside from the relative obscure quality, I’d like to shift gear after two sorrowful songs so to illustrate the larger experience of the refugees. There is, mind you, a lot of sorrow in this song. But its message moves from missing Saigon or one’s family members to the desire to fight communism in arms and return to the country.
It was, of course, nothing less of a pipe dream. But then the Fall of Saigon was so shocking that it became something of a dream to many refugees: nightmarish and depressing in the beginning, yes, but also a reason to orient their minds towards a far-fetched hope of return one day. It’s not possible to grasp the then popularity of the martial spirit against the postwar regime found in music – and the financial support many refugees gave to organizations purported to fight communist Vietnam – without recognizing the deep psychological scar that many refugees had at the time.
In any event, this song appears in the fifth of the “Phượng Nga” albums that were recorded in France in the early 1980s. The song is different from my #9 and #10 not only in content but also in tone and beat: fast and spirited. The format is the deceptively charming AAA’A’AA that could have made the song a terrific sing-along if the opportunity arose. (I think it’s AAA’A’AA; kindly correct me if it’s not.)
Here are the lyrics and my translation. The first verse begins with the people still in Vietnam – and their postwar experience of poverty.
Hát cho người ở lại quê hương
Với tấm lòng sót thương vô vàn.
Hát cho người trong họ hàng
Đang biến thành ma đói lang thang.
Sing for the people staying behind
Sing with a loving heart for them.
Sing for relatives and family members,
Now turning into starved and wandering ghosts.
The second verse moves from poverty to imprisonment and death.
Hát cho từng bạn bè anh em
Chúng bắt dần nhốt sâu trong rừng.
Hát cho người dưới mộ vàng
Đã chết vì chế độ lầm than.
Sing for each of our friends
Who have been arrested and kept in deep woods.
Sing for the people buried underneath,
Dead because of the wretched regime.
The refrain keeps the same format but ups a note. It moves from lamentation to condemnation and encouragement that they should fight oppression and restore the lost nation.
Hát cho người ở lại trong nước,
Nếu còn sống cứ nuôi hờn căm.
Hát cho người hùng tay cầm súng,
Âm thầm đang phục quốc.
Sing for the people remaining in the country:
If alive, keep up the hatred.
Sing for the brave men in the fight,
Who quietly gain back the nation.
The second half of the refrain ends with a call to arms and a vision of victory.
Hát cho người ở vùng nông thôn
Hay người đang ở nơi phố phường
Đồng bào ơi! Vùng lên tranh đấu!
Ngày chiến thắng sẽ không lâu.
Sing for the people in the countryside,
Sing for the people in towns and cities.
Our people! Rise up and fight!
The day of victory won’t be long.
The victorious vision is enhanced by the third verse, which looks towards the future: hope and dream.
Hát cho người ở lại nơi quê,
Chúng tôi thường vẫn mong ngày về
Nắm tay cười, xây lại đời,
Nơi nước Việt yêu quý yên vui.
Sing for the people staying behind,
We still dream of a returning day.
We’ll hold hands and rebuild our lives
In our peaceful and loving Vietnamese country.
The last verse returns to love and family, concluding with a resounding resolution to restore the lost nation.
Hát cho người tình ở nơi nao.
Hát cho mẹ với em quên sầu.
Hát cho đời! Hát cho người!
Quyết đấu tranh cho nước Việt tôi!
Sing for the loved ones wherever they may be.
Sing for mother and for sister so they are less sad.
Sing for life! Sing for people!
Determined to fight for my Vietnamese country!
There are better-known “liberation” songs, one of which will appear later on this list. But I think that this neglected and deceptively simple tune deserves listening because Phạm Duy manages to cover a lot of feelings, especially those centered around nationalism: righteous pride, horror over postwar developments, and hatred of communism. There is also implied sadness over missing families and friends at home.
I also like the collected performance from Khánh Ly: clear and a touch spirited, but not rousing and over-emotive, not unlike her recordings of Trịnh Công Sơn’s war music before 1975. (One of my favorite parts is her lilting of ở lại trong nước at the start of the refrain.) There could be no restoration of lost South Vietnam, but there should be a restoration of this fine tune to the higher ranks of Vietnamese refugee music.