LookAtVietnam – Unanimously dubbed the most modern composer of his time, Ngoc Dai will transport listeners with talented vocalists Thanh Lam and Linh Dung. Dai speaks about his message, his feelings about life and making music.
It’s been four years since your last show, Nhat Thuc 2, what message are you trying to convey at this concert?
It’s Dai – Lam – Linh. It’s about the three of us creating music with a spatial attitude that conveys the essence of the time we’re living in. What’s important here, I believe, is the way we see the world. The way we see the world we’re living in today is different from what we saw yesterday. I’m not saying one is better or worse. What is special about this show is that spectators come to hear us play our music. The show is improvisational and authentic. Yet to make that possible, we have to create a very firm musical structure where artists can join in and discover themselves without the need to rehearse with the band. This way of playing music is not new to the world, but it is very new in Viet Nam. In this programme, we are playing music unlike any songs you might think you have heard. The energy we put into the music, the feelings we know the audience will feel – I can assure audiences – are without comparison.
How have you been rehearsing for such a milestone in your career?
I have worked tirelessly for the last three years. I put everything together, from the ideas to the musical material and directions in a show to present it to the audience. One can say it is quite easy to please, but very difficult to persuade. I believe my show is unparalleled in terms of time reserved for rehearsal, the skill of the music and the patience it required.
You once said that, in this show, three artists create new music together. Are you just being modest or do you feel that this music is democratic?
When a composer writes music, in his mind, he already knows how he expects his songs to sound. But when I wrote my music, I wanted Lam and Linh (Dung) to be on equal terms with me, to give them the freedom to express and inspire others to any level they wished. That’s what I meant by being creative, but you know, in any band, from two musicians up to the philharmonic orchestra, there always has to be a leader. It’s like a farmer is assigned a piece of land and, with his co-workers, he plants the crop, waters it, adds fertiliser and reaps the harvest.
In Ha Noi in the 1990s, there were two pioneering bands: Phuong Dong and Hoa Sua. It’s a shame they dissolved and couldn’t keep their musical characters and, as a result, they lost their creative ability.
An anguish, as understood by the musician, can be varied: from the loss of love or of a country, to the lack of money and can always be hidden, never spoken aloud. When I make music, my utmost goal is to push out all the feelings that would otherwise be hidden in a man’s soul. The feelings of a living human are delicate and profound. I don’t give spectators the chance to bury themselves in the so-called frozen feelings they are used to. Why is it that someone listens to my songs Nhat thuc (Eclipse) and Det Tam Gai (Weaving the hemp cloth) and always feels renewed? This is the most inspiring thing for me, that I can revitalise the audience and actively invite them to be part of the process. On a higher level, by doing so, we reveal the ultimate truth of music, which a competent composer must be able to control if he is not to be beaten by that kind of music.
The core of music lies in his ability to be truthful to himself. Genuine music doesn’t spare untruthful musicians. What irritates me most is that the current musical scene in our country is ringing an alarm bell, warning of an upcoming disaster. By being truthful, first to myself, I was branded crazy.
Can you explain?
My Nhat Thuc 1 (Eclipse 1) show was terrific. But Nhat Thuc 2 was a disaster. I called it a funeral. The whole experience was painful and nothing came together. What makes me sad is that the composers no longer discuss their music. Those who used to speak the same musical language now keep their distance. When I invited them to hear my music, only Truong Ngoc Ninh and Pho Duc Phuong came and seriously listened. Only with them can I discuss where I’m heading with my music.
What is your favourite nickname?
I like them all. They reveal each phase of my life. First I was call “Crazy” Dai in the 1980s, then I was known as Dai Moore since I used to smoke only Moore cigarettes. After Nhat Thuc 1, I became Dai Nhat thuc.
Right now, I’m completely into this upcoming show. I spent several years living in Europe and there I felt I had to find my niche in music. I have to be responsible before my career, my music, and above all, the essence of Vietnamese culture. If you look at this show, you will know immediately that it is part of Vietnamese heritage in terms of sound, visuals and musical effects. I think, besides just having talent like many others, I must be daring to follow my musical endeavours while sacrificing other things. I feel this is the summit of my career and it’s impossible to have another show like it. God forgive me!
Do you think there will be listeners who won’t like your music?
When I make my music, I don’t categorise my listeners. My ultimate listener is the human soul, so I’m positive that a person will find one thing or another compelling.
My 50 years of loving music has allowed me to be able to do what I’m doing in tonight’s show.
What are the three things you can’t live without?
Music, beautiful women and good food. I feel sheer passion for music. I was fooled by it. Sometimes I could get hold of it and knock it down. Sometimes it knocked me down.
Do you have children?
I have five children. The eldest is 25 and the youngest is 6. My two oldest kids are Vietnamese, my third child is 14 and lives in Angola, my two youngest live with their mother in Belgium.
Do you feel connected to them?
I tried to live in Belgium for three years to be with my wife and children. Many times I felt that I was losing my kids and the feeling was suffocating. Now that I can’t raise them, I must return what I owe them: the signs of life and their origins.
In what language do you speak to them?
Music. They all know my music by heart. They proudly sing my songs at school and tell their friends it’s their papa’s music.