Tales of the Yellow Skin

Tales of the Yellow Skin

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Sun 04 Oc 2020, 08 pm – 10 pm
Tadioto
24B Tông Đản, Hà Nội

From the organizer:

Music night performed the songs of composer Trinh Cong Son through the coordination of Venezuala musician David Carpio (cuatro), with English translation by writer Nguyen Qui Duc.

Performing artists: María José Romero (cello), David Carpio (cuatro), Toan Thang (contrabass), member of Jumpforjazz.

– Early bird ticket: 400.000vnd
– Ticket at door: 450.000vnd
– Get your ticket here.

Trịnh Công Sơn was born on February 28, 1939, in Đắk Lắk Province, but grew up in his family’s hometown of Huế, Central Viet Nam. He died in Saigon on April 1, 2001. Thousands lined the streets and followed his cortege to his burial site.
It was in Hue that he witnessed the lethal battles and ruinous aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive and wrote the songs about the horror of war – some included in tonight’s program.

Sơn was a teacher already well-known for love songs written around the time he turned 20. Later, he was known as a singer/songwriter – first in admiring university circles in Saigon, then widely throughout the country for both elegiac ballads and sorrowful songs about the fate of a people shattered by war.

South Vietnamses authorities soon became displeased with Sơn’s pacific tone, banning his collection “Songs of the Yellow Skinned.” Nonetheless, entire generations grew to listen and memorise them – and see Trịnh Công Sơn’s voice as a reflection of their anxiety, and frustration over the unending fighting.

Never overtly political, Trịnh Công Sơn’s songs asked for a resolute look at the killings and devastation of a nation and its people. Some lyrics spoke of the shameful “brothers and sisters asleep” in the face of the carnage, and the “ambitions of the insane crowd” bent on warfare. But Sơn wasn’t being judgmental. He simply lamented a human condition borne of decades of obstinate fighting. Those involved are seen as victims and not heroes, their fate as suffering humans more important than any “patriotic” roles.

Friends, colleagues, musicians, critics and journalists paint him as a thinker on love, country and human fate. Others speak of his lyrics as an encouragement towards forgiveness, the recognition of losses, and a never-ending search for a self that allows awareness of human frailty and the ephemeral nature of life.

Overseas, scholars and writers have focused more on Sơn’s war songs. There’s often a recycling of the idea that Sơn is Viet Nam’s Bob Dylan – apt enough a comparison in terms of generational influence and division, or war related themes. But scholars may yet focus on their different religious beliefs, and the propensity or reluctance to teach, preach, or reflect human conditions and behaviors. Or on the fact that Dylan wrote and sang freely while Sơn was banned, sent to reeducation camps after the war, and condemned by the authorities. Other comparisons perhaps can place some of his songs next to Paul McCartney’s early romantic musings, George Harrison’s spiritual ones, and John Lennon’s political protests. Less crude is to also include Paul Simon’s philosophical and poetic words from his busker days. If ever there were good enough translation and scholarship, perhaps it isn’t too much to imagine Sơn’s words as worthy of consideration akin to that given to Dylan’s by the people behind the Nobel Prize of Literature.

Trịnh Công Sơn is honoured in several cities with streets named after him, but only some 70 of his songs are permitted to be performed publicly. It’s believed he wrote some 600.

Some from earlier generations cherish his songs for nostalgic reasons – yet younger people still know them by heart, listening, singing or quoting them endlessly. Regrettably, the war songs have faded. The decades of banishment have achieved the official goal. And if the lack of interest is an indication of people’s inability to confront a dreadful past – then tonight’s presentation, as reimagined by David Carpio and Maria Jose Romero, is an otherwise unwise and stubborn refusal to forget the horrid events that haunted and shaped Trịnh Công Sơn and his contemporaries more than 50 years ago.

Songs list

1. Speak for Me – Hãy Nói Giùm Tôi (Pasaje)

2. Winter’s Fable – Ngụ Ngôn Của Mùa Đông
(Bambuco)

3. You Walk in the Afternoon – Em Đi Trong Chiều
(Tonada – Gaban) with Bandola

4. Unknown Origins – Biết Đâu Nguồn Cội
(Contradanza)

5. The Nation’s Long Day – Ngày Dài Trên Quê
Hương (Tonada)

6. Song for the Bodies – Bài Ca Dành Cho Những Xác
Người (Elegy)

7. Singing over the Bodies – Hát Trên Những Xác
Người (Batalla del Tamunangue)

8. This Night, Tomorrow Night – Đêm Bây Giờ Đêm
Mai (Valse)

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