Ep. 17: Vietnam’s Best-Kept Secret is its Bright and Diverse Music Scene (with Sivaraj Pragasm)


November 19, 2019

The world’s next big pop star just may be from Vietnam.  In this Sound of Your Heritage episode, hear what’s happening in Vietnam’s active, talented, and diverse independent music scene – and learn about some of its hottest current artists.


Joining us today from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is Sivaraj Pragasm. Siv is a creative director, filmmaker and writer by profession. He is active covering events and promoting awareness of Vietnam’s fast-growing independent music scene for local publications.


I just got back from a trip to Vietnam – I thoroughly enjoyed it; one of the things I really enjoyed was the food (especially egg coffee!). Siv has compared Vietnamese music to its food, saying that both are “complicated, diverse and yet, still largely unknown to the rest of the world.”

There has been a lot happening in Vietnam’s music scene since their economic reform in the early 90s.  Before that, the country was going through wars in the 70s and was more or less one of the poorest countries in the world. 

History (pre-90s)

  • Folk tunes featuring traditional musical instruments
  • Classical music: composers such as Do Nhuan whose work, Co Sao, is credited as the first Vietnamese opera. Another composer, French-trained Nguyen Van Quy, wrote nine sonatas for violin and piano.
  • Nationalist anthems: Between the 1940s and 1980s when the country experienced the French and American wars and the Fall of Saigon, many musical pieces were inspired by the plight of Vietnamese refugees and eventually became ‘anthems’ for the Vietnamese people.

90s & later

  • Diverse
  • Influence of K-pop and J-pop
  • V-pop
  • Influence of Westernised music: inspired other genres such as rock (introduced to the country by American soldiers during the war), hip hop, r&b, dance music and EDM/Vinahouse.
  • Vietnam does not have an official music chart, so “mainstream” reflects favorite artists who enjoy airplay on radio, rather than “what’s new”. This means evergreen tunes from decades ago can sometimes end up at top spot on the list. When I was in Vietnam, I heard everything from Ed Sheeran, to Madonna, to Christmas songs (in mid-October) to Moon River (background music in airport/restaurants/hotel/etc.).
  • Effect of the internet and the ability for home-based musicians to produce and release music online with minimal costs
  • Notable Indie Music Scene artists: Thuy Chi (whose popularity is evident with international brand name endorsements), Touliver, Suboi.


Siv tends to think with sound. It is his habit (since childhood) to hum a made-up tune first thing every morning – first a tune reflecting the mood he feels, and then a second tune reflecting the mood he chooses to set for himself.  This is helpful for him starting the day with the right perspective.



Siv describes the vital role music played in helping him transition to life in Vietnam, following his move there from Singapore a few years ago.  Music helped him integrate into a new country because it was through music that he immediately connected with many new people, friends, and opportunities.

If he could recommend just one current top artist to those unfamiliar with Vietnamese music, Siv would recommend rapper Suboi, who has impacted the local hip hop scene and also gone global with her own unique style of feminist Vietnamese hip hop.

Listener Improv

Today I’d like to thank Gabriel for commenting on the Veterans Day episode, Ep. 15. This episode is a tribute to our country’s veterans, and takes a deep dive into bugles and the call of Taps. Gabriel wrote:  “I’m a junior in high school also being a scout for almost 7 years now. Very interesting all the information about bugling. Because at every scout camp I have been to they play reveille in the morning and then taps at night. Our troop owns a bugle and when a scout gets the position of bugler they take the bugle for 3 months and teach themselves how to play it. Usually they already play the French horn or the Trumpet. It was interesting to learn more about Taps. Looking forward to new episodes!” Thank you, Gabriel, for letting me know that! I had no idea that Taps was played at scout camps — very cool! I’m curious to know how common this is — since I heard from Gabriel, I talked to a 7th grade scout, and also an adult former Eagle Scout; neither of them experienced Taps being played at their scout camps. If any of you know more about how common this or how the tradition started, which troops play taps each evening at camp, etc., please fill me in! I’d be interested in hearing about that. Thanks again to Gabriel. Please be a part of the Enhance Life with Music community by sharing a practical, concrete way YOU enhance life with music. Leave a comment below, comment on social media (I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn), or in an email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com). You can also email me a voice memo and we can HEAR in your own voice the way you enhance life with music — I would love that! If you enjoy the show, please subscribe, rate, and review in whatever podcatcher you use — and tell a friend! I just saw stats this week from two different studies on how podcast listeners discover podcasts. Word of mouth tops the list! One study showed an overwhelming majority of 67% of respondents discovered their favorite podcast because of a personal recommendation. Another study showed 76% of respondents discovered shows through recommendations. Of that 76%, 41% were recommendations from friends and family, and 35% was from social media, which is like an online word of mouth. So please, recognize that you are an influencer, and recommend the show in person and by sharing on social media. Thank you so much for listening today, for sharing the show, and for sharing your tips on how you enhance life with music. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.