Modern and Contemporary Music

Today’s Vietnamese popular music finds its roots in the so-called ‘pre-war music’ (nhạc tiền chiến), which developed during the colonial period. Harmonious, sentimental and often melancholy, many popular romantic songs from both before and after 1945 have since become regarded as national treasures and are still performed widely.

Prewar Music

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The most influential northern composer of popular music to emerge during this period was Văn Cao, who developed a unique style combining elements of Vietnamese folk music and folk legend with stylistic elements of the French chanson. Văn Cao’s best-known works include Thiên thai (’Paradise’), Trương Chi, Suối mơ (’Dreaming Spring’), Thu cô liêu (’Lonely Autumn’) and Ngày mùa (’Cropping Season’)

Contemporary Music

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The most talented and influential songwriter must be Trịnh Công Sơn (1939-2001), who had 11 collections published between 1959 and 1975. Many of Sơn’s works, including Sài Gòn mùa xuân (’Sài Gòn in Spring’), Hà trắng (’White Summer’), Mùa thu Hà Nội (’Hà Nội Autumn’), Mưa hồng (’Red Rain’) and Cát bụi (’Dust’) are known and loved by Vietnamese throughout the world. In 2004 Sơn – whom Joan Baez once called ‘The Bob Dylan of Việt Nam‘ – was posthumously awarded a World Peace Music Award.

Modern Music

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Past decade composers such as Trần Tiến , Dương Thụ and Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện have brought a distinctly Vietnamese dimension to pop songs written for leading artists such as Hồng Nhung, Trần Thu Hà, Phương Thanh, Mỹ Linh and Thanh Lam. Trần Tiến is one of a small group of contemporary songwriters who have sought inspiration from ethnic minority music, as evidenced by his compositions Ngọn lửa cao nguyên (’Flame of the High Plateau’) and Tiếng trống baranưng (’Sound of the Baranưng Drum’). Other important figures working in this field include the afore-mentioned Hoàng Văn (Tình ca Tây Nguyên, ‘Tây Nguyên Ballad’) and the prolific Nguyễn Cường (Nguyễn Mạnh Cường, b 1943, Đến với Tây Nguyên, ‘Come to Tây Nguyên’ and Ơi M’Đrak, ‘Hey, M’Đrak’). Over the past two years two musicians from Tây Nguyên (the Central Highlands) – Y Moan and Kpa Y Lăng – have also made a name for themselves as a popular singer-songwriter