Tag Archives: Vietnamese music

Artist Profiles: Hà Nội Duo

Hà Nội Duo

Hà Nội Duo started as a collaboration between two Vietnamese musicians, Nguyên Lê and Ngô Hồng Quang. The two artists come from different traditions. Nguyên Lê is a renowned jazz guitarist and composer while Ngô Hồng Quang is a vocalist, plays various Vietnamese traditional musical instruments and is a composer as well.

The two artists’ first album was Hà Nội Duo (Act Music, 2017), a masterful combination of acoustic and electric jazz, ambient electronic sounds and Vietnamese traditional music.

The collaboration continued with international tours under the name Ha Noi Duo, connecting Vietnamese music and audiences with modernity without forgetting the past.


Hà Nội Duo (Act Music, 2017)


Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero

The air conditioned Theater Stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 presented Hà Nội Duo and Mehdi Nassouli on Day 1, Friday, July 12, 2019.

Hà Nội Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Hà Nội Duo is a project featuring traditional Vietnamese singer and dan bau player Ngô Hồng Quang and renowned jazz guitarist Nguyên Lê. The music performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival combined Vietnamese tradition with cutting edge technology. While Ngô Hồng Quang delivered passionate performances on vocals and mesmerizing tradition and high tech, electric guitar ambiance, beats, virtuoso performances.

Mehdi Nassouli’s Gnawa quintet provided a spellbinding show with Massouli on guimbri and four smiling acrobatic dancers and musicians on the karkabas (metal castanets). Band members included Abdesslam El Ouassif, Mohamed El Gasmi, Rachid Bobros and Driss Yamdah.

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero
Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero

The headliners on Saturday, July 13th, are reggae artist Macka B, La Chiva Gantiva, and Estonian band Trad Attack.


Masterful and Reverent Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither

Tri Nguyen – The Art of the Vietnamese Zither (ARC Music, 2019)

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You see the title The Art of the Vietnamese Zither and I can hear the huff of your sighs and feel you rolling your eyes from here. Perhaps you are imagining a rather spare, academic exploration of the zither and a dense intellectual tour through Vietnamese music with an impossible array of terms to learn and understand in order to grasp the Vietnamese zither. Well, nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Achingly elegant and intricately engaging, The Art of the Vietnamese Zither will have listeners perched on the edge of their seats, anticipating note after note capable of musically expressing a summer afternoon, the rainy season and a young man’s ride on a horse to seek his bride all by way of the Vietnamese zither.

Armed with a musical education that includes the Music Conservatory of Saigon and the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, as well as previous recording credits Beyond Borders and A Journey Between Worlds, Vietnamese composer, pianist and zither player Tri Nguyen has turned out a stunning recording with The Art of the Vietnamese Zither. There’s nothing spare or clinical about this music. It comes across as sweepingly cinematic and deeply personal to Mr. Nguyen whether it is a grand, bold piece like “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” or a delicately intimate song like “Autumn Moon Lullaby.”

Composing and arranging most of the tracks, Mr. Nguyen has gathered up a group of musicians to join his vision and own zither playing on the Art of the Vietnamese Zither like Buynta Goryaeva on violin, Iryna Topolnitska on violin, Carolin Berry on viola, Dima Tsypkin on cello, Son Mach on violin, Thanh Trung on guitar, Trung Tran on monocord, Nguyen Quyet on Vietnamese bamboo flute, Thien Lam on Vietnamese lute, Tran Hien on Vietnamese drums and for an unlikely addition on several tracks Qais Saadi on percussion and oud.

From the very opening track “Exchange of Love” through to the last note of closing track “Black Riding Horse,” The Art of the Vietnamese Zither is masterful in its balance. It’s easy to pick out the reverence to ancient musical traditions of Vietnam and where Mr. Nguyen marries that with Western traditions as on the elegant “Song of the Blackbird.”

The bright delicacy and careful bend of notes allow tracks like “Twilight Mist,” “Sadness of the South” and “Move on Water, Walk on Clouds” to simply flow like fluttering silk in the breeze. Stepping away from the delicate into the bold “Melancholy” and “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” prove that there’s plenty of drama in Vietnamese music. And, if that weren’t enough, Mr. Nguyen dazzles with a kind of hybrid track on “Child Where Are You?” with Mr. Saadi providing percussion and interestingly enough sinuous oud lines, and again on the track “Golden Skies.” Closing with the traditional Vietnamese folk song “Black Riding Horse,” Mr. Nguyen fleshes this track out with traditional Vietnamese bamboo flute, lute and drums to dazzle listeners with this wild musical ride on a black horse.

The Art of Vietnamese Zither is a gorgeously sumptuous listen and well worth the journey across southern Vietnam’s musical landscape.

Purchase The Art of the Vietnamese Zither


Artist Profiles: Thomas Thuân Dang Vu

Thomas Thuân Dang Vu was born in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam where he learned to play the dan tranh (Vietnamese zither) in his youth. Immediately after college he moved to New York City and began to focus his creativity on studying the gu zheng (Chinese zither).

Thomas has performed at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the New York Asian Festival and the Earth Day Celebration at the United Nations. In May of 2002 he and Wang Changyuan were invited to perform in London for the 2002 Nobel Prize Laureates at the Ahenaeum Club at Pall Mall and the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House.


Artist Profiles: Phong Nguyen

Phong Nguyen

Phong Nguyen is one of the foremost exponents of Vietnamese music in the West and a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, the United States’ highest honor for achievement in the traditional arts awarded at the White House (1997).

Raised in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, he comes from a family of prominent musicians conversant in musical genres that span the Vietnamese musical spectrum from theatrical to chamber music folk songs to Buddhist chants. He is a traditionally-trained musician who studied with a village master from the age of five.

At the age of 13 he took up Vietnamese theater music and went on to perform both tai tu music, a more formal entertainment musical tradition. He also studied with mountain tribal musicians and learned the bamboo instruments. He left his native land in 1974 and went on to receive his doctorate in ethnomusicology from the Sorbonne University. Since moving to the United States he has performed extensively throughout the United States Asia and Europe and taught at the University of Washington, U.C.L.A. and Kent State University. He can be heard on the Lyrichord, New Alliance Records and Music of the World/World Music Institute labels.

Nguyen points out that because the separation of social classes is minimal in Vietnamese culture folk music and art music share many traits and are more similar than in Western societies. “The folk music is principally vocal” he says explaining their differences. “Meanwhile in art music there’s vocal and instrumental music together. Folk songs are sung without accompaniment. They’re chanted in the fields while people are working. They don’t bring instruments with them.”

While he is competent on many Vietnamese instruments, he often focuses on the 17-string dan tranh zither and the two-string dan nguyet (long-necked “moon” lute).


Traditional Music of Vietnam (Lyrichord)
Vietnamese Music in France & the United States (World Music Enterprises)
Song of the Banyan (Music of the World/World Music Institute)