Bonjour Viet Nam, a gift to the homeland
Imagine: Pham Quynh Anh, the singer, knows Viet Nam only through her parents’ stories.
Spirited: Marc Lavoine, the famous French singer and composer who wrote the song.

Bonjour Viet Nam, a gift to the homeland

(26-02-2006)

 

by Thanh Liem - Bach Lien

"Someday I will go there, one day, I’ll say hello to your soul. Someday I will go there (to) say hello to you, Viet Nam."

For many people first hearing this song, it is difficult to keep emotions under wraps. The sweet voice of the Vietnamese-Belgian singer and the heart-felt lyrics have attracted a lot of attention, attention other Vietnamese singers would die for. All this and the song has not yet even been officially launched.

Bonjour Viet Nam by Marc Lavoine, a famous French composer and singer, has been making waves in Vietnamese communities all over the world since it was posted on the Internet in January. The song likely owes a lot of its success to Pham Quynh Anh, the singer, a young Belgian woman who knows Viet Nam only through her parents’ stories.

The song was written for her by Lavoine and she sings it with all the passion of a 19-year-old girl, who as the song goes, wishes someday to visit her ancestral Viet Nam.

"I like the song so much. I feel the singer’s nostalgia for her homeland, especially when she stresses the word ‘Viet Nam’ with a native accent. The composer, Marc Lavoine, must have a great love and understanding of Viet Nam to be able to write and produce such a beautiful song," said Le Van Nhung, a 22-year-old student in the French Department of the Foreign Languages University.

"The melody is rich, the rhythm is simple and the lyrics are poetic. Though I’ve never been away from Viet Nam, I feel moved when I hear it," she added.

Born on January 16, 1987, singer Pham Quynh Anh was a student at the Saint Stanislas School in Mons of Belgium, where the family has lived for a number of years. She finished her secondary studies in June 2005, and though bright enough to attend university, she decided to pursue a music career instead of becoming a doctor like her father.

Beginning at a young age, Quynh Anh received lessons in musical notation and lyrical singing at the Academy of Mons, as well as guitar lessons. In addition, she went out of her way to participate in many different types of cultural performances in her small city of Mons. Her parents noticed very early her aptitude for music and with her family, she took part in the charity Espoir (Hope), which organised performances of folk tales to raise awareness of cultural issues and humanitarian needs.

In 2000, her father registered for her to compete in the contest ‘Pour la Gloire’ (For the Glory), organised by the RTBF, Belgium’s official French-language public broadcaster. Amazingly, she won first prize with the song Pour la Gloire (For the Glory). Not too long after, she signed a contract with Universal in 2002.

As far as careers go, 2005 was a great year for Quynh Anh.

In March, Lavoine wrote Bonjour Viet Nam for her.

In April, she was chosen to sing J’espere (I Hope) with Lavoine in a duet. The song is in the album L’Heure d’Ete (Summer Hour), and was released to acclaim in June. In November, she began a tour with Lavoine, beginning in Liege, Belgium, and ending in Paris, France.

Some big-name musicians have even begun calling to offer their voice and assistance on her first album, which is due to come out later this year.

Quynh Anh’s gorgeous rendition of Bonjour Viet Nam was first introduced to overseas Vietnamese communities when a friend of hers posted it on the Internet.

Available on the ‘net only, the song spread quickly and became popular among Vietnamese, both at home and abroad. Many said they see the song as a message to the homeland from overseas Vietnamese.

Lavoine, after meeting Quynh Anh in Brussels, was moved by her innocent charm and obvious talent. He was struck by the young woman who was deeply Vietnamese, yet born abroad. He then wrote Bonjour Viet Nam for her.

"Whenever I listen to the song, I imagine Viet Nam to be a peaceful and beautiful place filled with good-natured people, despite its tumultuous past," wrote Katie, an overseas Vietnamese, on the Visualgui Music Forum.

Through Quynh Anh’s voice, many older Vietnamese people have changed their attitudes about young Vietnamese living overseas. Where once they saw little respect and nostalgia for the homeland, they now recognise that Vietnamese youth never fully leave behind their heritage.

The English lyrics of Bonjour Viet Nam, as circulated on the Internet, are provided below:

Hello Viet Nam

by Marc Lavoine

Tell me this strange and difficult name to pronounce

that I have carried since birth

Tell me about the old empire and the features of my slanted eyes

describing me better than what you dare not say

I only know about you from images of war

A movie by Coppola and the angry helicopters

Someday I will go there, someday, I’ll say hello to your soul

Someday I will go there (to) say hello to you, Viet Nam.

Tell me about my colour, my hair and my small feet

that I have carried since birth

Tell me about your house, your street, tell me this unknown entity

The floating markets and the wooden sampans

I only know about my country via the photos of war

A film by Coppola and the angry helicopters

Someday I will go there, one day I’ll say hello to my soul

Someday I will go there (to) say hello to you, Viet Nam.

The temples and stone-carved Buddha statues for my fathers

The stooping women in rice fields for my mothers

Praying in the light to see my brothers again

Touch my soul, my roots, my land...

Someday I will go there, some day I’ll say hello to my soul.

Someday I will go there (to) say hello to you, Viet Nam.

Ronda Hauben, a US researcher, said the song took her back to the anti-Viet Nam War movement in the 1960’s.

"The song is just gorgeous. It makes me want to visit Viet Nam. It brings tears to my eyes, thinking of the anti-war movement and the conflict in Viet Nam. I’m so happy that we can now communicate with each other across the world," said Hauben. "Something special and new and good is happening in the world. Though trouble seems to be strong in our day-to-day lives, there is something underneath it all that is precious. We wanted peace and collaboration, not war or domination. "

Lavoine is a well-known musician and singer in France and Belgium. At the age of 44, he has released nine albums since 1985.

Born to a musical family on the outskirts of Paris, at 16 Lavoine wanted to be a television performer, but later recognised that music was his real dream.

In 2004 and 2006, he was nominated for best male artist in France, and this February he appeared on the big screen in the film Toute la Beaute dans ce Monde (All the Beauty in this World) by Marc Esposito.

Despite its unreleased status, Bonjour Viet Nam has touched, and will continue to touch, Vietnamese communities. With simple and authentic lyrics and a charming and sensible voice, the song strikes a chord deep in the heart of listeners.

No final version has yet appeared, but according to Domenech, Quynh Anh’s manager, it will be included in an album of 15 songs by Quynh Anh which will be released this year. — VNS

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