The spotlight has shone recently on the music made in 1960s/70s Cambodia and Thailand, when American influences, in part due to the war in neighbouring Vietnam, permeated local music traditions. Even as far away as Okinawa, home to many US military bases, the music scene was changed forever. In Saigon, US rock and pop influenced local music too, albeit usually in a lighter pop/folk style compared to the raw psychedelic/funky sounds being made across the borders.The main protagonists of the day, such as Khanh Ly, emigrated to America in 1975 along with thousands of other Vietnamese refugees. This album too is all about the legacy of the Vietnam war, but in a very different way. War is a Wound, Peace is a Scar focuses on the Communist north in Hanoi, with musicians who lived through, survived the war and now sing songs they feel tell their tale. It is a beautiful document, at times moving and surprising. Over the course of the album we are introduced to five musicians who feature on different tracks. Singer Nguyen Thi Lan produces a spine tingling magical moment, on Road to Home. We are told she was once an AK-47 issued village leader who hadnt sung for forty years whose emotional performance defied her usual stoic personality. The song titles are in English, which leave no doubt about their content; For the Fallen, Road to Home, Please Wait for Me and Taking Your Spirit to the Next World. 85 year old Vo Tuan Minh plays guitar and sings on what is the only original song by one of the performers, I Long to Return to My Hometown. Written when he was a soldier, his role was to sing to boost the morale of the troops. All other instruments are Vietnamese and include the little known Kni, an extraordinary plucked instrument that is clasped between the teeth and the words spoken in a local dialect on this album by Quoc Hung through its single string. Holding together, what could be a disparate group of musicians and styles, is former Hanoi and now California resident Van An Vo, whose last album was reviewed in these pages and a track included on one of the compilations. She adds dan tranh, the Vietnamese zither, and occasional percussion to most tracks. Its all beautifully recorded in Hanoi and produced by fellow Californian Ian Brennan, best known probably for his work with Tinariwen and Malawi Mouse Boys. If theres one minor gripe, its that the booklet-less digipak doesnt give a bit more information about the musicians and the songs. For example, we dont get any information about Pham Mong Hai, who contributes, beautifully, the opening two and final track. I get the feeling theres even more of a story to tell, hidden between the lines sung by these performers. Overall though, an exquisite release.
1. Pham Mong Hai- For The Fallen 01:59 2. Pham Mong Hai - Help Us in This Life 3. Nguyen Thi Lân - Road to Home 4. Quôc Hùng - The Wind Blows It Away 5. Võ Tuan Minh - I Long to Return to My Hometown 6. Xuân Hoach - Heroine Song 7. Xuân Hoach - Doomed Love 8. Nguyen Thi Lân - The Rice Drum 9. Xuân Hoach - Gratitude 10. Quôc Hùng - Please Wait for Me 11. Pham Mong Hai - Taking Your Spirit to the Next World