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Culture Vulture

Update: February, 07/2013 - 00:00

(VNS) The song Chiec Khan Pieu (The Pieu Scarf), about the beauty of the traditional scarf of Thai ethnic people, was named Song of the Year 2012 in Viet Nam Television's Favourite Song contest. Composed by Doan Nho in 1956, the song's vitality convinced young audiences through the updated performance by Tung Duong.

Born in 1933,Nho has written songs since he was very young, and his patriotic songs about the national resistance have been popular. He studied at the Kiev Conservatory in 1962-64 and was awarded the State Prize for literature and arts in 2001. He speaks about his song Chiec Khan Pieu.

The song The Pieu Scarf is already well-known and has been performed by many singers over the years. Which version satisfies you the most?

I wrote the song for a man, but I was deeply impressed by female singer Anh Tho. She uses vocal techniques to sing with a birdlike voice. She renews the song and audiences like it very much. The most recent version is very modern, combining jazz and electronic music and sung by Tung Duong who has became known for his "offbeat" singing and performing style. I was astonished for the first few minutes when I heard him and didn't like it at first.

What made you change your mind?

I'm conservative because I'm at 80. Old people get used to old things. But, due to the nature of my work, I am always kept up-to-date. The veterans not only help the younger generation but the veterans themselves are refreshed.

Before the Favourite Song show, I saw Tung Duong's perform to celebrate the anniversary of "Dien Bien Phu in the Air" when he sang John Lennon's anti-war song in English. His performance was very successful. As a result, I spent more time listening to him and discovered that he has put his stamp on the song The Pieu Scarf. Now, I can say that Tung Duong is not only talented but also very creative. I don't think the song would have been successful if the singer had not been Tung Duong. And it is necessary to mention the arrangement of the song by Nguyen Le.

Some feel the song might have been more appropriately honoured in another show, such as Endless Songs. What do you think?

The song is not a new song but Tung Duong's creativity helped give the song an update style and allow it to become popular for younger listeners. I want to stress the non-stop flow of creativity from generation to generation. The young artist has renewed and made popular the old songs. Multiple generations of Vietnamese songwriters have inherited Western music. Early on, the songwriters brought these exotic elements into their own music. Songs by Van Cao, Doan Man and Do Nhuan were very popular. Nowadays, I have to ask myself how we can have Vietnamese hip-hop music? It was because we had these elements in place long ago. Vietnamese cheo (traditional opera) is a form of rap, a primary ingredient in hip-hop music, but we didn't recognise it. But I think the young composers like applying a foreign model to their own work. It is a concern and a pity, too.

Do you think rearranging the old songs will be a new way for classic songwriters to find success?

Success or failure depends on talent. The younger generation is always attracted by the new or unusual. These strange factors play an important role in composition. But strange and new are different concepts. The strange is not a path toward creativity. It can only be achieved through exotic elements. But if the strange factor is not incorporated by the songwriter, the work may not find popularity.

You have composed many songs that have become very popular. Could you tell which songs are the highlights of your career?

Luckily, when I joined the army, I met two great composers of Vietnamese modern music, Do Nhuan and Nguyen Xuan Khoat. I composed my first song when I was asked to compose to song to encourage agricultural production. I was happy because I was an amateur at that time. Khoat didn't say anything but Nhuan said, "This song is very Western."

The next song was inspired by my own feelings of homesickness. Once again, the song did not appeal to Khoat. "The song is too Chinese," Nhuan said. After these two songs, I was advised that a professional songwriter needed understand national folklore. The advice was very important and has followed me throughout my career. Thanks to this fundamental lesson, I have written songs that have become very popular because they use a lot of folk characteristics. I composed the songs based on my experiences of all the places that I visitted. — VNS

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