SHOW TIME: Singer Trọng Tấn and other artists with members of Nắng Mới before going on stage in Hà Nội. Photo courtesy of the band
You may one day chance upon a moment, when perhaps you’re in a hurry, rushing through the crowded and noisy streets of Hà Nội at the end of a working day, and, almost like a miracle, the sound of singing finds your ears and slows you down, with stress replaced by relaxation.
It may take a little time to identify where the singing is coming from, until you see a small stage on a footpath, usually around sunset.
Despite being temporary and somewhat lacking in technical and professional investment, such stages have been the site of musical performances by a band consisting only of visually impaired people, singing and playing with nothing but passion.
People around town are now more likely to stumble upon such performances, by the band known as Nắng Mới (New Sunshine).
Nắng Mới is probably the most professionally-active group of sight-impaired people in Hà Nội and was founded in 2016 by blind teacher Trần Bình Minh.
OPEN-AIR SOUNDS: Nắng Mới playing in Hà Nội’s city centre. Photo courtesy of the band
The band had 10 members, aged 11 to 27. Many have been blind since birth but all are educated in music, including Đức Thiện, Thảo Xuân, Hoàng Chung, Tài Đức, and Quang Huy.
Each member comes from a different part of Việt Nam and from different circumstances, but they all share a deep passion for music and singing and have an optimistic attitude towards life.
The only thing that makes them different from other musicians is that they can’t rely on written music, and must instead learn every note by heart.
Xuân, the only woman in the band, has a baby face and a bright smile. She can play the zither and sing in various genres, from folk and soft listening to bolero.
PRESENCE: Singer Thảo Xuân, the only woman in the band, has a baby face and a bright smile. Photo asvho.vn
She never curses her fate, she said, even though her twin sister is able to see. Her character is one of openness, always laughing and thinking about her appearance. She must, of course, rely on others to do her makeup, but she has all the cosmetics required.
“I dream of graduating from the University of Foreign Languages and becoming a teacher, so my parents won’t be so concerned about me,” Xuân said. “But I also want to follow my passion for music, so I play in our band.”
Thiện, who’s quite tall and also the band leader, explained that his mother slipped over while she was pregnant, bringing on a premature birth that left him blind.
While his mother always blamed herself, Thiện never thought that way. For him, it was important to act like a normal person, since it was clear he had musical talent. And his parents gave him nothing but encouragement.
At the tender age of seven, he entered the Nguyễn Đình Chiểu boarding school for sight-impaired people. Now, at 20, he possesses a mature demeanour and speaking style, like a confident, settled adult.
He currently studies flute and different ethnic minority instruments at the Việt Nam National Academy of Music, and also plays keyboards and can mix music.
His idol is Nguyễn Thanh Bình, a visually impaired artist and musician, and he dreams of becoming a music producer, just like him.
“There was a time I felt sad and constrained by my lot in life, but my music has made not only me but also my family much happier,” he said. “The road ahead is long, I’m sure, but when we pursue our passion success comes sooner or later.”
Huy, meanwhile, is small and quiet but a talented guitarist who appeared on Việt Nam’s Got Talent 2016 and won praise from the judges.
He can also sing. His mother said she was so moved watching him perform for the first time, about five years ago, that she cried all the way through, from the opening bar to the last.
“Music brings him a lot of happiness,” she said. “He used to sit alone and dwell on his situation.”
The oldest member of the group is Chung, aged 27. He comes from the northern province of Bắc Ninh and learned a host of folk songs from an early age.
He spent time in Hà Nội, but then returned to his native Bắc Ninh for nearly a year. But he missed the band, and eventually found himself back in the capital.
Tài Đức, from the northern city of Hải Phòng, is on keyboards and a “temporary member” of the group. He calls himself Nắng Mới Cộng (New Sunshine Plus) and likes it when others do likewise.
Whenever there is a show in Hà Nội, Đức catches a coach from his home port city. The young man has a straightforward appearance and a wonderful sense of humour, and sometimes goes by the nickname "Đức Sến Keyboard".
Playing in the band won’t see any of them become wealthy, but it puts something in their pocket and brings a happiness that money just can’t buy.
Huy said his life is now more comfortable, as he can set aside some savings for when he marries and has a family, while Chung has been able to live independently for a long time and enjoys a busy life.
In their big show, in June this year, called Đêm Tình Ca Hà Nội (Hà Nội Night of Love Songs), the band played a fantastic melody about love for Hà Nội and its people.
Held with support from many famous singers, musicians, and artists such as Trọng Tấn, Khôi Minh and Phương Mai, the show had a great effect on the band’s reputation.
MC Hạnh An An said the show was a soulful reunion of music lovers with people who love Việt Nam’s capital.
Established in 2016, the band faced its first major challenge when COVID-19 pandemic made its presence felt around the country earlier this year and a period of social distancing began.
Musical shows of any variety were put on hold, and most of the band turned to internet retailing.
“No artist would have enjoyed that time,” Chung said. “But life has unexpected turns, and we had to accept it. With no shows to play, we just stayed at home and practised and played to keep ourselves entertained and ease the sorrow.”
Like other youngsters, the young musos love to use their smartphone, and use talk-back software to do so, with a screen reader and voice reception.
Social networks also help them connect with family while away from home and make new friends. The band often posts photos and videos of them and others singing their hearts out. VNS