When I first discovered Southeast Asian traditional music, I was completely hooked. This ritualistic music is usually played by ornate, elaborate, beautifully unique instruments. Their very strange & lovely sounds can transport you to a sort of spirit world, reminding you of the sheer depth of music that is made here on planet earth.
I then discovered Southeast Asian pop music (via the legendary Sublime Frequencies label), which is a whole nother joy itself. This caused me to seek out as much Southeast Asian music as possible, a niche genre that can be tough to find. Some 10+ years ago I discovered a place in City Heights called Bon Phuong. Anyone been to this place? It’s a karaoke/video/music shop in the wonderful Little Saigon district of San Diego. I dug through 100’s of cassette tapes at that place on multiple occasions and found all kinds of fun stuff. I was primarily looking for Lao, Cambodian & Vietnamese Pop music of the 70’s & 80’s. I found some gems in this department but also discovered many strange tapes of 1970’s traditional music of the Vietnamese theatre.
Side B of this LP represents this traditional theatrical music, which isn’t appreciated by very many people. It consists of epic, lengthy vocal pieces backed by a Lute & 16-stringed Zither. The music can often by improvised & accompanied by dancers. The result of this repetitive music leaves one in quite an entranced state of mind.
But the music on Side A of this Unesco LP showcasing the music of South Vietnam is the real treasure here. This consists of ritualistic music of the Cao-Dai & Buddhist religions. The instrumentation is marvelous, with handmade oboes, two-stringed fiddles with coconut resonators, small gongs & cymbals, wooden clappers, drums, long-necked Lutes, hollowed Buffalo horns and more.
Many of these pieces begin with meditative sounds layered by the gongs, cymbals & droning fiddles. You get completely lost in these mellow sounds, only to be met by the bursts of the high-pitched oboe, awaking you into its cachophonic bliss. This meeting of peaceful, meditative sounds with the high-pitched wails of the oboe make for a harmonious pairing. These noisy moments are equally as meditative, making for some very lovely, traditional noise music.
Viet-Nam II: A Musical Anthology of the Orient (Musicaphon Unesco Collection; 1970’s; Made in Germany) is available here at Folk Arts for $13, a major deal. This music isn’t available online, so you’re gonna have to check it on my listening station. You can find this LP in my Southeast Asian section.