The Vietnamese music scene is in a constant state of flux. International acts from powerhouses such as Korea and the United States are gaining a larger foothold by the day. A resurgence of pre-war pop songs – belonging to a genre called bolero – has also been recognizable over the past few years, with singers covering bolero songs at a dizzying rate, and multiple competitions on television devoted to this one genre. And of course, the popular music industry is still going as strong as it has ever been.
Yet, amidst all the flashing lights and loud noises of a manufactured pop industry, a group of artists are honing their craft and creating some of the most groundbreaking music that Vietnam has seen in a long time. They come from different walks of life and explore different musical genres, but all of them share a few common points: they are young, they are passionate, they are free, and perhaps most importantly, they are unique. Without the endorsement of large record labels, these up-and-coming musicians utilize social media platforms such as SoundCloud, YouTube and Facebook to promote their music. Through Facebook posts, text messages or simply word-of-mouth, they have attracted a following of avid listeners, people who are intrigued by such avant-garde melodies, or those simply disillusioned with the mindless drivel touted as ‘music’ today.
“Ngọt” is Vietnamese for Sweet. At first glance, it may seem like an odd name for a band; but any one of their songs would perfectly explain the reasoning behind the name. The Hanoi-based quartet’s sugary music, influenced by exotic genres such as ska or gypsy jazz, has amassed quite a dedicated fanbase – Candies. (Candies are sweet, get it?). These are not just your run-of-the-mill Internet followers either: Ngọt’s recent live show in Hanoi was a huge success, and another upcoming show in Saigon has sold out in a matter of days. Amongst concertgoers, we see people from all facets of life, from high school students and college kids to middle-aged men with their toddlers, proving that good music touches various souls, regardless of age.
For Marzuz, her music is a reflection of her life stories. The Hanoian native comes from a line of musicians: Her father, songwriter Thanh Phuong is regarded by his contemporaries as one of the best guitarists in Vietnam and her aunt is the famous Vietnamese diva Tran Thu Ha. However, she’s looking to carve her own path, away from the family’s pedigree. Beginning from acoustic covers, the young artist has dabbled in many genres – from folk to electronic – and far from moulding her musical identity, Marzuz is still embarking on the journey exploring her own persona:
I still wanna keep trying, because I honestly feel like this genre isn’t for me to pursue in my entire career. I wanna be more, I want something like, I don’t know, spectacular and extraordinary.” – she told Blum Creative.
From Hanoi to Saigon, we move from the gentle sounds of Ngọt and Marzuz to something more turbulent: Đen Vâu (real name Nguyễn Đức Cường), a hip-hop artist with a perspective on life that is as serious as it is laid-back. He’s perhaps the latest name in the indie scene to ‘break out’ into the mainstream, with his mega-hit ‘Đưa Nhau Đi Trốn’. There’s much more to him than just catchy feel-good songs, though. From introspective thoughts (Trời Ơi Con Chưa Muốn Chết) to hard-hitting party anthems (Mày Đang Giấu Cái Gì Đó), he always brings his A-game to the table.
These artists are just a few representatives of an indie music scene that have, against all odds, managed to relatively escape the scrutiny of the general public. They continue to follow their passions and keep on creating music that they love, away from the pressure of the music industry. The question remains: are they the missing pieces to Vietnam’s future in music?