Klum Kuh from Buôn Ma Thuột,
Karaoke may have been a Japanese invention, but it is big here in Viết Nam. Perhaps the singers are imagining themselves in lights. Maybe they genuinely fancy themselves as melodious balladeers. Or, do they secretly hope a talent spotter will be lurking in the corner, ready to shove a fresh contract under their noses? The fact is that most of them are not very good at it, but that doesn’t seem to deter them greatly.
When you hear the tuneless karaoke, you can be forgiven for blaming the language for the dissonance. It’s a tonal language, with almost every word containing a single syllable. That means that delivery – to foreigners – can sound a bit shrill or staccato. It can even sound like two people engaged in a dialogue are in violent disagreement (when they aren’t). In song, it can sound disjointed and jarring.
The Ede people of the mountains
Here in the highlands, where minority ethnic groups are much more numerous, this is much less so. The Ede people are enthusiastic singers. They deliver with a passion and purpose reminiscent of Italians. They sing in both their own language – also tonal – as well as Viếtnamese, but they seem to be able to make it sound a whole lot more mellifluous.
The music – unlike most Viếtnamese, and for that matter, any – is cheerful and optimistic. In general, Viếtnamese popular music is notoriously sad; not unsurprising for a nation used to repelling invaders. The big rage here at the moment is Mekong Bolero (the enigmatic name for the genre is a complete mystery). Every song sounds like a sad story. Here in the mountains, there is a different beat. It’s all positive and jolly.
In among the bamboo groves, with mango and avocado trees as a backdrop, and lotus flowers in profusion on the pond, the singers are clearly loving the performance. They exude conviction and cultural pride, and they search the audience for receptive faces. These singers have voices that project the oral language in a fluency not normally associated with the grating Viếtnamese language. Perhaps it’s their smile.
There are other positive elements to the experience. When the band is playing, no-one raucously inveigles the audience to “give it up”. Rather, the introductions are delivered in a soft, unassuming female voice. The whole performance is about pleasing the audience, not the limelight of an egotistical performer.
As we repose in our beautiful bungalow after a great day in the hinterland, the karaoke is blasting away in the valley. If the singing was out of tune, it would be an irritation but here everyone seems to be a serious singer. It’s more like a free concert. Even the tuneless ones sound alright.
Nao ho from Buôn Ma Thuột,