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tuannyriver

website & blog of Tuan Hoang, Pepperdine University

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Music

Song of refugees #6: Bài Hát Học Trò (A Student Song)

My last post notes a fire that I experienced in Minnesota back in the 1980s. After I posted the link on Facebook, a fellow former refugee responded that he remembers people ran out of the building that night and carrying “nothing but boomboxes.”

Funny, you say, but it is illustrative of two things.  First, Vietnamese music was very, very important to the refugees. Second, after automobiles boomboxes were the most valuable possessions for many refugees back then, especially men in the twenties and thirties, some of whom populated the apartment building that was burned down.

$_57
A boombox from JVC manufactured in 1982… JVC and Sony were the hottest brand names for Vietnamese refugees at the time. ~ pc eBay

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Song of refugees #7: Tôi Với Trời Bơ Vơ (Me and the Lonely World)

This popular song did not cross my mind at all when I first conceived this list.  A passing comment from Jason Gibbs, however, made me think more about it.  Later, reading a published comment from the song’s composer prompted its inclusion.  It is the least conventional choice for this list, since there isn’t anything overtly about refugees.  Yet for reasons below, it speaks subtly about the experience of adjustment to the new land by Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere during the 1970s and 1980s.

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Song of refugees #8 – Hát Cho Người Ở Lại (Sing for Those Staying Behind)

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.

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Song of refugees #9 – Khóc Một Dòng Sông (Cry A River)

The lyrics of this song are simple: possibly the simplest from this list of ten.  But at times simplicity is equivalent to power, and I think this song is quite powerful.  The most interesting find during my Internet search for recordings is the following video of a performance by several Vietnamese American girls in the Seattle area.  The young singer speaks in Vietnamese at the start:  I love this song because through my grandparents, I understand the feelings of people having to live far from their families, friends, and homeland.

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Song of refugees #10 – Sài Gòn Vĩnh Biệt Tình Ta (Saigon, Farewell Forever My Love)

Knowing that I’d like to start this series with a song related to Saigon, I nonetheless had a hard time deciding from several choices. Travel turns out to be the decisive factor, and being in Houston this weekend prompts me to settle on Saigon, Farewell Forever My Love.  Its authors were two refugees who settled in the Houston area: one not long after the Fall of Saigon; the other sometimes in the early 1980s. [Correction: Both came to Houston in 1975; see the note from Jason Gibbs among the comments below.]

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The Vietnamese equivalent to the Beatles’ Yesterday

Comparisons of music in different languages and styles could be a hazardous affair.  Even at its best, a comparison could be pretty inexact because one could locate as many divergences and differences as parallels and similarities, if not more.  And the differences may be too strong to render similarities ineffectual.  With this caveat, I nonetheless wish to give this comparison a try.

toiduaemsangsong

A few months ago, I suggested that the Vietnamese equivalent to Where Do I Begin?, the theme song of the movie Love Story, is a ballad by Trần Thiện Thanh about a young couple in wartime.  The song was based on a true story, albeit the deceased at the end is the man rather than the woman as in the novel and movie.  There was also temporal proximity, as the Vietnamese song was written and produced two or three years after the release of the sentimental American movie.  In other words, both songs came out of the early Seventies.

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Song of war #1 – Một Mai Giã Từ Vũ Khí (Farewell to Arms)

There are different ways to build a top-ten list.  The way I employed for this list is twofold: pick the top song, then poke around to see if I could build a sensible list leading to this song.  When I first thought of this list, I knew right away which song I’ll put at the top.  My decision was pretty firm. It grew firmer when I made an important discovery that, as far as I know, has never been made by anyone before.

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Song of war #2 – Đêm Nguyện Cầu (Night of Prayer)

Belief in God tends to be strong for people living amid warfare. It is hardly a surprise then that prayer finds its way into music written during war.  It was surely the case with popular music in South Vietnam.

Since this is the week of Christmas, it is worth mentioning that one the most popular South Vietnamese albums is filled with prayer.  It is the third album of the fine series Sơn Ca (Birdsong), and the title is simply Giáng Sinh: Tình Yêu và Hòa Bình: Christmas: Love and Peace.  It features some of the biggest names in the Saigon music scene at the time: Thái Thanh, Khánh Ly, Thanh Lan, Giao Linh, Lệ Thu, Anh Khoa, etc.  (A recording from Elvis Phương would have completed this A-list.)

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Song of war #3 – Du Mục (The Herd)

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Refugees in Saigon, May 1968 ~ pc Stripes.com

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