Emerging singer Nguyen Tran Trung Quan, winner of the New Artist and Album of the Year at the 2014 Cong Hien (Devotion) Music Awards, spoke to Culture Vulture about a recent music trip to Japan.
His successful debut album, Khoi Hanh (Departure), grabbed the attention of Japan's Goodwill Ambassador to Viet Nam, Sugi Ryotaro, who sponsored the trip.
There he met Japanese artists and got a behind-the-scenes look at Japan's music industry.
Who did you meet and work with in Japan?
I met rock singer Atsushi Sakurai, who is one of lead male singers in Japan, is the lead vocalist of the band Exile.
I followed him to his working place at LDH Entertainment Company. I visited the recording studio and met other people working there. Sakurai was enthusiastic about sharing his work experience with me.
His work day shocked me. Even though he is famous in Japan, he works hard without rest. He has only two or three hours a day to take a break yet he is full of energy.
I feel ashamed to say I was shocked because I, unlike him, was so tired by my tight schedule. I also met Oguri Kumiko and the Wagakki band. Kumiko is the only Japanese musician who can play the t'rung. She studied t'rung in Viet Nam. She now teaches the t'rung in Japan.
Wagakki plays rock using traditional instruments. They taught me how to play Japanese Koto instrument and flute.
Was it exciting to see a Japanese person playing the Vietnamese t'rung?
Yes! Artist Kumiko loves and knows about t'rung more than I do. When we met, she played a Vietnamese folk song that I know. I told her I wanted to sing the song with her so we did a kind of improvisational performance. I thought I was back in Viet Nam at that moment. Music has no barrier between Viet Nam and Japan.
What's the most interesting you learned from the tour?
It's funny because what I learned most wasn't about music, it was about human beings.
Singer Sakurai told me that he respects both his work and his love. He loves his work as much as his girlfriend and so he never separates them.
I don't know if all Japanese are like Sakurai. He told me that he earns money in order to keep and nurture his love, and his love, in turn, inspires him to work.
What is a difference you noticed between Vietnamese and Japanese music?
Japanese music is rooted in tradition; musicians don't overuse western music in their compositions. From what I saw, I think Japanese really venerate traditional music and make good use of traditional culture.
I can hear Japanese melodies in rock and pop music productions. It encourages me to combine Vietnamese traditional culture in my music in the future.
Your debut album earned you two awards at Devotion Music Awards. Have the awards added pressure?
I wouldn't be honest if I said no. The Devotion Music Awards is prestigious and given by reporters, mass media and the press that specialise in the music industry. It was an honour to have my hard work and efforts recognised.
The awards also gave me more music industry connections and relationships. I received a lot of honest feedback about my album from veteran artists, which is worth a lot.
I generally try to escape pressure, but I think there are two kinds of pressure. One is an encouraging pressure and the other is destructive.
For young artists like me it's tragic if we get destructively pressured by awards because we are young and haven't experienced enough in life and art.
The two awards make me believe in my vision for my music career. Many people ask me why my first album is not more like entertaining pop music genres for young audiences.
Of course, I need audiences, but with my first album of electronic music, I wanted to make something representative of me. — VNS