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Not Just Tender and Unostentatious, Mạc Mai Sương Is a Multi-Faceted Gem

Mạc Mai Sương, with her endearing curly hair and warm tone of voice, has been on heavy rotation in our playlists since she released ‘Mơ,’ ‘Hoa,’ and ‘Mưa.’ But upon delving deeper, one would realize that Sương’s musicality is much more eclectic than the mellow songs she’s known for.

As natural as breathing

Despite growing up in a family uninvolved in the music industry, Mạc Mai Sương’s formative years were saturated with the tunes of Mozart, The Beatles and Céline Dion through her parents’ music collection. As she entered adulthood, music became the impetus pushing her to leave behind one year of study abroad to return to Vietnam to chase her dream in making music.

Mạc Mai Sương's journey in music officially started when she returned home after a year studying in France.

The first project that left that distinctive Mạc Mai Sương mark in the mind of the audience was the track ‘Mơ,’ which she describes as a “small achievement but encompassing big influence.” The song not only helped garner Sương’s first fans, but also led her to meet Doãn Hoài Nam, a singer-songwriter that has since become a kindred spirit in Sương’s music career even until now.

Following the single releases, Sương stood next to Vũ, Hanoi’s “prince of ballads” in his concert “Xin Phép (Được) Cô Đơn,” where her unique name became better known among Hanoi’s music-loving crowd. From then on, Sương continues to appear in collaborative projects with other indie artists, like Trang in the latter’s song ‘Đừng Hát Về Cơn Mưa’ or Madihu with ‘Vườn Mây.’

Mạc Mai Sương and her long-time co-performer Doãn Hoài Nam.

Sương tells me that she started writing her first songs when she was just 15, but she “couldn’t feel satisfied with any composition, no matter how many times [she] tried.” Part of it, she says, was because she felt intimidated by Doãn Hoài Nam. She wasn’t confident that her own materials could measure up to those of her talented friend. Somewhere in those emotions, a touch of self-doubt hovers in the mix. “I sing a lot and I love doing it, even though my father once commented that my voice wasn’t special enough to be a professional singer,” she keeps telling me. “I didn’t really like my voice.”

Still, during indie band Cá Hồi Hoang’s concert in Hanoi where she was the opening act, Sương remembers feeling like she was sucked into an alternate dimension. This was the most major milestone in her career.

Singing 'Mơ' with Vũ in his concert.

“Time seemed to stop and the stage lights might have blurred, I suddenly realized that I have been on a long journey since my first tiny stage to be able to stand here,” she reminisces. “And there wasn’t any reason to worry because there were so many fans standing over there cheering me on.” Sương compares that moment to the proverbial “Eureka!” propelling her to release more stuff she wrote on her own.

“There are many things I want to say, but couldn’t put into words, so I turn them into lyrics. Singing them becomes as natural as breathing, it helps me express my feelings better,” Mạc Mai Sương shares. As a reserved soul, she doesn’t always feel comfortable putting her emotions on the table, nor does she particularly enjoy social media. Singing her own writing is a way Sương connects with the world, with life, and of course, the people who love her music.

(From left to right) Madihu, Trang and Mạc Mai Sương.

Not just gentle and unostentatious

Sương says that, when she used to perform alongside Doãn Hoài Nam or the indie musicians at HUB, people remember her by the mellow and laid-back vibe of the setting. Sương, however, knows that she is capable of showing more facets than that. It’s one of the main goals she strives to achieve when presenting her own solo efforts.

Two such projects that she enjoyed making the most are ‘Phút Giây Nghỉ Ngơi’ and ‘Sau Kết Thúc Là Bắt Đầu.’ The former was the first time she penned both the lyrics and melodies, in collaboration with Madihu as a producer. According to Sương, Madihu is among the people whose music sensibility is on the same wavelength as hers. The song was a “wordless” collaboration, as she puts it. Together, they crafted a concoction of electronica, pop and trip-hop that’s tender, laid-back and peculiar in its own way.

A solo effort that Mạc Mai Sương is particularly proud of.

‘Sau Kết Thúc Là Bắt Đầu,’ on the other hand, is the result of her rumination while…washing dishes. The inspiration came after a chat with a friend on meditation. “My friend said that to meditate isn’t just sitting in place and being mindful, meditation is immersing oneself into reality,” Sương recalls. “That evening, I tried to ‘meditate’ while doing the dishes instead of listening to music, and the first few bars of the song popped up in my mind.” The sequence haunted her for days until one rainy day, she decided to sit down, get her guitar out, and finish the song.

'Sau Kết Thúc Là Bắt Đầu' has an enigmatic vibe compared to Sương's previous songs.

An important factor helping Mạc Mai Sương embrace her own musical identity is the support from the members of her band Mạc and the Odd Stones. In 2019, after a serendipitous invitation to perform, she contacted six musicians in her social circle to form a brand-new band.

Mạc and the Odd Stones, she explains, can be understood as “Mạc and the not-even stones” or “Mạc and the weird stones,” reflecting the oddball circumstance when the band was established. It’s also a declaration of sorts from the band, that “there’s nothing wrong with being odd.” Being among harmonious musical friends, Mạc Mai Sương admits to feeling more “whole” while on stage as they complement her creative persona and strengthen her stage presence.

Mạc and the Odd Stones after a live performance.

Songs for the Seasons

Even though she has been rather quiet on social media recently, Sương divulges that she is busy putting together her debut album. According to the initial plan, it will feature eight tracks she wrote and performed herself, though she says that the list is just tentative because “if one day I feel inspired, maybe I’ll add a new one or remove an old one that no longer fits.” She firmly assures that there won’t be more than 10, however, and that the album will be a display of rarely seen perspectives of her musical personality.

Mạc Mai Sương's new project on YouTube.

As a self-proclaimed social media-averse person who’s not too proficient at marketing her own creations online, Sương rarely updates her YouTube or Facebook. This is something she admits to regretting, so she has started to publish more cover songs online to get closer to listeners.

To Sương, these little performances help her hone music arrangement skills to release better music in the future. At the time of writing, the Music Weather series has aired three sessions under the autumn theme — Fallin for Autumn. Even though she confesses to being “quite lazy,” she makes a promise to herself to try to maintain the project in the near future.

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