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.
- 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
- Influence of K-pop and J-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.
- http://mothpeople.net/: Siv also runs a creative collective called mothpeople that specialises in branding with members across southeast Asia.
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.