Two summers ago, Vietnam was in the throes of a series of protests: this time, in reaction to the fish deaths along some of the coastal areas. Widespread, emotional, and nationalistic, the protests were nonetheless carefully monitored and even partially suppressed by the government. In the last two weeks, and especially since last Saturday (January 20), intense nationalism has again shown up on the streets of Vietnam, but for a different reason: the national men’s soccer team kept advancing in the third Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship tournament.
This summer has been one on Vietnamese history: some for research and some for the sheer pleasure of knowledge. Before turning to prepping for fall classes, I wish to have one more write-up about several articles read in the last two months. The focus is Vietnamese history but away from the Vietnam War. Below, I go over each article in chronological order of their topics.
Ask Vietnamese to name Vietnamese female singers that they love, and you can expect to hear many names. Ask them to name a Vietnamese female songwriter, and just about everyone will be stumped by the question. For there has been little recorded popular music written by Vietnamese women. I have no explanation for the wide discrepancy. But such was the case, at least in South Vietnam and the postwar diaspora.
Dịch tiếng Anh qua tiếng Việt lúc dễ lúc khó, mà khó nhiều hơn dễ. Dịch tiếng Việt ra tiếng Anh cũng vậy. Mà không chỉ dịch văn chương, triết lý, thần học; ngay cả dịch những câu ngăn ngắn cũng có lúc trắc trở. Khó nhất là tục ngữ, thường là không dịch sát được.
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.)
To reiterate a point from the last post, nationalism appears here and there in South Vietnamese music, not in one place. Strong arguments will necessarily come from a broad survey of songs, not a few. For now, however, I will zoom in on just one song in the hope of illustrating certain aspects of nationalism in the Republican South.
What is Ba Lần Mẹ Khóc, whose title I have Englished as Thrice Mother Wept, opting for old-style “thrice” over “three times” in order to cut down on syllables? Like Tuổi Trẻ Chúng Tôi, it was recorded only once in South Vietnam. KEEP READING!
This is the first of two posts on music in South Vietnam. Here is the second post.
The first time at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), I presented a paper on ethnic nationalism in South Vietnamese music. Thanks to a nice line-up that I put together (including the Australian anthropologist Philip Taylor as chair and discussant) and auspicious scheduling (right after lunch time on Friday and without another panel on Vietnam at the same time), a lot of people in the field showed up to this panel. It seemed, indeed, as if Keith Taylor was the only big name from the U.S. that was missing. (I did see him a few days later at Cornell.) The sizable room was nearly packed: a most desirable outcome for a conference panel anywhere.
Alas, it was a successful outing in most respects but for me. KEEP READING!