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Indie Artists Bring New Sounds to Vietnam's Contemporary Music Scene

The state of current Vietnamese music is complicated. In the minds of the older generation, years of historical turmoil are intricately linked with their personal identity, thus they tend to harbor a fondness for 1960s pre-war tunes. Younger Vietnamese, however, are exposed to a host of foreign influences and so often prefer pop-infused acts that don’t stray too far from regional powerhouses such as South Korea and Japan. However, in the face of a bubblegum pop invasion and the resurfacing of pre-1975 oldies, a crop of young indie artists are quietly carving out a musical identity of their own by marrying elements of local culture with iconic international influences.

Do Tan Si started the Ran Cap Duoi project in 2014 with a fellow music lover in Hanoi. Inspired by an ancient Egyptian symbol depicting a dragon consuming its own tail, the duo initially struggled to find a harmonious sound because of creative differences. Fast forward to the present and Ran Cap Duoi has evolved into a musical collective comprising six members from Vietnam, the US and Canada, according to Canh Dong Am Nhac.

“I’m not sure which genre we’re pursuing because [the project] changes direction constantly. So probably experimental or post-rock are apt to describe our music,” Si told Canh Dong Am Nhac.

Apart from Ran Cap Duoi, the Saigon-based artist has also released music under the name Jung Buffalo – after Swiss psychologist Carl Jung – making use of scores of different instruments from guitars to synthesizers to a marching band, according to Tuoi Tre.

Music via Soundcloud user Trương Học Sĩ.

If Do Tan Si and the Ran Cap Duoi collective share a happy-go-lucky approach to creating music, 16-year-old Marzuz strives to craft melodies from her personal stories. Marzuz, whose real name is Tran My Anh, started out with acoustic music and indie covers, according to a recent interview with Blum Creative. However, the Hanoi native has been trying to push the boundaries of the genre.

“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,” My Anh told Blum Creative. “I wanna be able to make my own music, to create something that’s…me. There are my works with other producers. I’m just a part of them, they're not really my thing; they're their thing with a little bit of me.”

Video via YouTube user Nguyet Anh Dao.

While Do Tan Si and Marzuz draw the audience in with introspective narratives and atmospheric sounds, the guys from Ca Hoi Hoang (Wild Salmon) charm listeners with their indie-rock vibes that are reminiscent of Kodaline and McFly. Their latest album, Giac Mo Giay (Paper Dreams), was released on December 3 and has already generated great interest in the local indie scene. The album was released simultaneously on CD and, surprisingly, traditional cassettes.

Ca Hoi Hoang started out as a three-member group from sleepy Da Lat. They released their first single, “Mot Phut Quay Lai”, in 2013. Now a quartet, Ca Hoi Hoang is probably the closest thing that Vietnam has to a proper indie band, complete with raspy hooks and electric guitar solos.

Video via YouTube user Ca Hoi Hoang.

Despite hailing from three different cities, Ran Cap Duoi, Marzuz and Ca Hoi Hoang – like many of Vietnam’s current indie artists – rose to fame thanks to online music platforms such as Soundcloud, Bandcamp and even Facebook. They have managed to, unintentionally or not, stay off the radar of the general public and media outlets and keep pursuing their own interests and passion without unnecessary pressure from the music industry.

Related Articles:

[Podcast] Songs From Southeast Asia: Vietnamese Music Through the Ages

Nhạc Vàng: Bridging the Generational Gap With Retro Saigon Tunes

Saigon, East of New Orleans: The Surprising Global Roots of Southern Vietnamese Funeral Marching Bands

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