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I just watched an ad of a friend’s friends’ clothes store. Artfully shot video. The merchandise of $280 polyester dresses didn’t interest me a single bit. But the music certainly did. I had never heard similar Viet music. It was funky and fresh. And obviously pre-1975. (Female singers in South Vietnam all had very distinctive voices, but shared the same unmistakable quality that makes them easily distinguished from later performers. In Vietnamese, I’d describe it as . I can’t find the word in English so I’m gonna say “raw.” And my hypothesis is that since they didn’t go through formal musical training, their voices never got polished and smoothed out.)

The tune is sung by Mai Lệ Huyền and comes from a compilation titled “Saigon Rock & Soul 1968-1974.” I found the whole album on youtube and I’m in love. My award goes to the rock band called CBC. It’s been ages since I last listened to a Vietnamese rock song. If only this band existed today. Drum solo, guitar riff, it all flows and is so much fun to listen to. The drummer looked no older than 13. AND the lead singer is a girl! Yes, take that. She sounds total badass.

The story of the band is fascinating. Brothers and sisters from a poor family, they played music to American GIs in Saigon to earn money and became one of the top rock bands in the city, if not the top. In 1974, they left Vietnam and sought refugee status in Australia but were denied. They ended up in India and were taken in by Tibetan monks in Delhi. (Watch this precious footage of their life at the temple.) They later were admitted to the US and apparently now still play music somewhere in Houston, TX.

I know cultural expressions were suppressed and artifacts destroyed after the fall of Saigon. Owning anything remotely Americanized or sentimental was a punishable crime. But I’m surprised it’s taken this long for me to rediscover these gems.


Feb 2008

I was strolling on the beach when i heard some distant music. The sound became more distinct as i approached a seaside porch, where sat two musicians: one in his mid-20s (really cute) and the other middle-aged. They saw me but continued to play. The music was good so i decided to stay, sitting down on one of the steps in front of them. They sang in English, but when they stopped to discuss something, it was in German. I don’t remember who initiated the conversation but after a short while, i joined them at the table for a glass of beer. The place was painted in blue [i later found out that it was called the Blue Bar] and some Japanese was written on one of the pillars: ii desu ne.

An older woman came out with another guy. She owned that place. She came here more than two decades ago. It was apparently after the 60 era, when Formentera, together with its more buzzing neighbor island Ibiza, was a hippy paradise, but it has held on to its charm as such to hippy minded folks. Her son, the young guy, was born on the island and had spent most of his time there. The older guy was his uncle, a full time musician in Germany who came here with his buddy just to play music and write some rhythm during the low season.