Ngo Hong Quang is a young, versatile Vietnamese artist who bridges the gap between traditional and modern music. He talks to Luong Thu Huong about his new album Song Hanh (Companionship), recently released in both the Netherlands and Viet Nam.
Ngo Hong Quang can play various traditional Vietnamese musical instruments, such as the dan nhi (two-chord fiddle), dan bau (monochord) and drum. He teaches at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music. Recently, he received a scholarship from the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music in the Netherlands, where he is studying composition. Quang's ambition is to introduce Viet Nam's traditional music to the world.
Inner Sanctum: How did your passion for folk music start?
I started to fall for folk music when I had the opportunity to study at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. At that time, the only musical instrument I could play was the two-chord fiddle. Because I have been living and studying in a traditional musical environment, I feel very happy and pleased with my choice.
Inner Sanctum: In the last few years studying in the Netherlands, what did you learn to prepare for your album Song Hanh, as well as for your future career?
The time I studied composition in the Netherlands provided me with many interesting new experience in modern music, world music and various forms of realist arts.
All of these experiences inspired me to produce an album of traditional music, but in modern form. The album Song Hanh is an interesting combination of electronic music and traditional tunes.
Moreover, the knowledge I gained when studying abroad contributed significantly to my composing intention. The creative environment in Amsterdam is very free and flexible so experimenting with new ideas is highly encouraged. That helped to form my composing orientation. I often exploit Viet Nam's traditional music, combining it with western musical instruments to create a new musical combination.
Inner Sanctum: Young people nowadays seem to be keen on modern music. They do not understand or have no interest in traditional music. Do your traditional works aim to capture a young audience?
My first aim when composing is focusing on new experience and conceptions I have accumulated with my intuition. I try to transcribe the things surrounding me in my personal musical language. I pay more attention to my inner feelings than to my listeners.
My recent works use traditional tunes; however, interestingly enough, they have received a lot of attention from young listeners, especially young singers.
Therefore, I will try to direct my music more towards young audiences, as it is very important to popularise Viet Nam's folk music.
Inner Sanctum: Song Hanh is the product of co-operation between you and a Dutch artist, Onno Krijin. Why did you decide to work with a foreign artist instead of a Vietnamese one? What obstacles did you face while working together and how did you get over them?
There are two reasons accounting for my choice. First, I was living and working in Holland during the time I made the CD. Second, I found many interesting things in Onno Krijin. He is a pianist, composer and producer with his own studio and he studied contemporary music. Working with Krijin offered me many favourable conditions to create something new.
We encountered many difficulties when making Song Hanh together. It took me one year to produce the CD, during which I had to travel on my bicycle with loads of musical instruments on my back to go to the studio once a week. The freezing cold winter caused me to fall down many times. Moreover, during the initial production of the CD, it took both of us such a long time to understand each other's music, especially for Krijin to understand xam (Strolling Blind Music) and cheo (traditional operetta).
However, we gradually overcame these difficulties with patient studying. I exchanged knowledge with many Vietnamese artists like Xuan Hoach and Bich Hong to learn more about folk tunes. In the Netherlands, I listened to folk songs on CDs and also tried to find my own way of singing and performing.
Inner Sanctum: How have audiences in both the Netherlands and Viet Nam responded to Song Hanh?
Five hundred copies were released and they were nearly sold out within six months, which is a positive sign. Listeners supported the CD and encouraged me to produce more such products. Many Dutch people purchased Song Hanh right after it came out.
After it was released in Viet Nam, my CD received many comments from other artists, both positive and negative. But a good sign is that the CD sold like hot cakes in Ha Noi, which means that music lovers support me and my new experiments.
Inner Sanctum: The CD is a combination of Vietnamese and Western, traditional and modern. What are the special features of Song Hanh that attract listeners?
It arouses both strange and familiar feelings in the listener. It is strange because ornamentations, repetition and simple tunes of Vietnamese folk music are different from what westerners often listen to. It is familiar because the music performed by Krijin has a popular orientation, with Western harmony, rhythms and instruments.
Inner Sanctum: What's your resolutions for this year?
I'm going on tour in many European countries with many other Vietnamese and foreign artists. After the Lunar New Year, I'm planning to go on tour in France with singer Le Cat Trong Ly and jew's harp player Nguyen Duc Minh. This summer, I will hold shows in the Netherlands and Germany.
My personal plan is composing more, especially music for young people. — VNS