|Heritage reminder: Traditional musician Vo Van Anh plays zither and traditional percussion on the album. — Photo swmusic.org
HA NOI (VNS) — A music CD recently released by Vo Van Anh features Vietnamese traditional music performed by master musicians in their later years.
The CD entitled Ha Noi Masters: War Is A Wound, Peace Is A Scar was produced by the Grammy-winning Ian Brennan and traditional musician Vo Van Anh. It has 10 songs performed on ancient Vietnamese instruments by Vo Tuan Minh, Quoc Hung and Xuan Hoach.
Anh is a Vietnamese traditional musician living in the US. Her compositions include the Emmy-winning soundtrack to Bolinao 52 in 2009 and the score for the Oscar-nominated Daughter From Danang in 2003.
"The master musicians are getting older and don't have much more time with us. Each of them is a live dictionary of Vietnamese music and culture," Anh said. In particular, these musicians experienced the American War.
Anh's father, Vo Tuan Minh, was the first musician invited to perform on the CD. Her father signed up to be a guitar player during the war to avoid having to hold a gun and shoot people.
"He was assigned to rush into battlefields right after the two sides stopped shooting to play the guitar and cheer up the soldiers," Anh said.
His father witnessed his friends being killed by stray bullets as they played music. But for him, this high risk was still better than holding gun and shooting at people. Minh composed a new song called I Want to Return to My Hometown, which he sang by himself on the guitar on the CD.
The CD also features three songs performed by musician Xuan Hoach. He experienced the war when he studied at the Viet Nam Academy of Music (VNAM).
From 1966 to 1970, Americans attacked the north and Hoach was evacuated with his school to the northern province of Ha Bac.
"It was very tough to study and teach in the war time at underground shelters," Hoach said. "However, my passion for traditional music never faded."
He performed the traditional songs with bau (mono-chord instrument); nhi ho (two-string bass fiddle) and nguyet (two-string moon-shape instrument).
Two other pieces, Lullaby and The Wind Blew It Away performed on the K'ni instrument, were also highlights of the CD. The K'ni is a one-stringed instrument made from bamboo.
It is used by ethic minority groups living in the country's Central Highlands. It is also called the mouth violin.
Many of the traditional instruments that appear on the record act as a precursor to some key tropes of western rock music, Brennan said to The Guardian.
Brennan has produced three Grammy-nominated records (World Music- 2011, Best Traditional Folk- 2006 and 2007).
"For years I was interested in doing a project with Viet Nam veterans from the other side of the Viet Nam war," Brennan said.
"The emotional trauma that many American veterans suffered was so profound, and yet the pain of the other country's soldiers – those from Viet Nam – had been largely unrecognised in the US," he said. "I believed that there must be a depth of experience there."
He had the good fortune of contacting Anh. She helped him reach out within the Ha Noi community and assisted with her music experience, as well.
The two artists came to Viet Nam in 2014 summer to kick off the project. They met and asked Vietnamese musicians to sing songs they wanted to share with audiences – even songs they'd never performed.
"I really hope this CD will get attention from people and remind them of our national culture and musical heritage," Anh said. The CD is on sale on Amazon. — VNS