Vietnamese singer-songwriter Le Cat Trong Ly has been chosen as one of eight young Asian artists perform on the BBC Asia Beats programme featuring talented artists from Viet Nam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Ly's simple, from-the-heart music style has captured the attention of music lovers in Viet Nam, and the 26-year-old singer sat down to chat with Viet Nam News about her life and plans for the future.
HCM City is Viet Nam's music hub where many artists from across the country settle to pursue their careers. In contrast, you left the south for a life in Ha Noi where you have been living for the past years. Why did you make that decision?
I decided to end my studies at the Da Nang University and left my hometown in the central city for HCM City back in 2006. I took up the viola and started composing there, but I realised after many years that despite the city's thriving music industry, I couldn't be true to my own style.
The bustling music industry in HCM City is totally different from the refined cultural environment in Ha Noi. That's why I decided to move to the capital. I believe that living in a pure, cultural environment gives me more real-life experience and enriches my musical knowledge. In addition, as the Vietnamese proverb says: "Di mot ngay dang hoc mot sang khon", meaning: "A day on the road gives you a bucket-full of wisdom".
I think I fell in love with Ha Noi when I first visited the city when I was 18 years old.
What have you lost, if any, and how have you benefited from living in Ha Noi?
So far, I've only benefited. I even prefer living in Ha Noi to my hometown Da Nang. I enjoy a better working environment here and the refined indigenous culture. Everything about Ha Noi, be it the bustling street or the current drizzly weather, brings me enjoyment. Here, I have the chance to meet elderly musicians and artists who preserve the pure spirit of Ha Noi. By talking with them, I've learnt more about the city and I've come to love it more.
In the past two years, I feel that I've grown up by learning from these people. Alongside school, there are many other ways to accumulate knowledge. So far, I'm happy with my decision to settle in this city.
Compare to other singers who seem to enjoy the limelight, you seem to keep yourself distanced from the showbiz industry. Why?
Unlike other more popular artists, I do not receive invitations to perform regularly at big events because they don't suit my style. My music is better suited to small, more intimate venues.
I don't have any ambitions of becoming rich. I don't need to live in a big house or wear designer clothes and luxury handbags. The most expensive thing I ever buy is musical equipment. I'm living the life of an ordinary person in a small, rented apartment. That's why I don't have any pressure to make money.
To earn a living, I organise about six shows every year in Ha Noi, Da Nang and HCM City. Each show gathers an audience of 30 to 50 people, most of whom are loyal fans. I don't use any PR or marketing campaigns, so some people think I've quit the industry.
Artists sometimes need to reinvent themselves to maintain a fresh image. Have you had to do this?
I don't think that I should change myself or my style because once I do that, my fans will turn their backs on me. They love me and my music because of who I am.
Whenever I have a show, I just offer the audience my new songs. I've never had any difficulty finding inspiration for new songs, and although I compose quite a lot, I just select what I think are the top 15 for my performances.
Most of your songs express your experiences and philosophies. Many people wonder how – as a young woman – you've had the experiences to write these songs. Can you explain this?
Real-life experience? Just live. Age is not important when it comes to living a full life. The more important thing is what a person experiences and their attitude towards what's happening. If the audience wants to know what I've been through, I think my songs are the best answer. — VNS