Breath of Asia: Music of Vietnam Set to Awe Audiences on a Journey Through Vietnamese Music

Folks in the Bay Area still pondering what to do this weekend might want to pop by the Smith Center at Ohlone College in Fremont for a live performance with Breath of Asia: Music of Vietnam (or just Breath of Asia for short).

Declared the “first ensemble of its kind from Vietnam,” Breath of Asia interweaves traditional Vietnamese melodies with modern composition, drawing out the exuberance, the melancholy, the contemplativeness, and the dynamism that defines and charges Vietnamese music.  The show promises a “journey so transparent and clever the show never opens or closes it’s curtains.”

Breath of Asia’s performance starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, and you can purchase tickets here. The cost is 20 dollars for general admission, 18 for students and seniors, and 15 for youth under 12.  It’s reasonably priced, the musicians are sure to dazzle, and there’s no knowing when Breath of Asia: Music of Vietnam will be back at the Smith Center, so even if you’ve already made weekend plans, you might want to reschedule those and pick up a ticket now.  Do it!

Event Details:

  • Time and Date: 8 p.m.,Saturday, Nov. 13
  • Venue: Jackson Theatre, Smith Center at Ohlone College (43600 Mission Boulevard, Fremont, CA)
  • Tickets: (Direct link to ticketing site)
  • Ensemble members: Van Anh Vo (zither); Khac Quan (violin); Ai Van (vocals); Huy Phan (bass); Song-My (dau ban and violins); Kim Ueyada (piano); Jason Jong (percussion)
  • Producer: Kallan Nishimoto
  • Event site: Smith Center Presents!

Song-My Tran, the lovely dan bau and violinist of the group, was gracious enough to supply VTP with a little more with information about the band.  Check out her Q&A session below.

Who is Breath of Asia: Music of Vietnam and how did you get started as an ensemble?

Breath of Asia was started in February by Van-Anh Vanessa Vo, a national champion in zither performance in Vietnam. She is an amazingly talented musician who is committed to presenting traditional Vietnamese music to Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese audiences in a more modern way. Our music showcases Vietnamese instruments but also incorporates elements of Western classical music, jazz, and Japanese taiko. Do Bao, a leading modern composer of Vietnamese music, collaborated with Van-Anh to write a lot of the music we will perform.

How did some of your non-Vietnamese members get involved, and have you succeeded in converting them into Pho fans?

We have two non-Vietnamese members, who were introduced to Van-Anh by our creative director, Kallan. They are talented musicians who bring Western classical and Taiko influences into the group. I’m pretty sure they were already Pho fans when they got started, but we’ve succeeded in introducing them to other awesome dishes, like banh cuon, goi cuon, and thit kho.

What kind of spirit does Breath of Asia want to capture in its music?  What kind of message would you like to convey?

With this particular performance, we want to convey the depth of Vietnamese music and show that it can be re-interpreted and understood by a new generation of people. Vietnamese traditional instruments are able to portray Vietnamese culture and history in such a profound way. We want those who identify with Vietnamese culture to be able to discover a rich aspect of their cultural identities, and we want new audiences to discover these traditions.

Since so many young folk are turning away from tradition, what brings you to traditional music?  And how does the fusion of traditional and modern come out in your music?

It was simply the dan bau (Vietnamese monochord) that drew me to traditional music. I was fascinated by the instrument because it has the most haunting and beautiful sound. As I discovered Vietnamese music through the lens of the dan bau, I was drawn to the familiar sounds that I had heard my parents and grandparents listen to. Out of context, traditional music can seem like a remnant of outdated customs, but it becomes exciting when you get to discover how it is played and different ways it can be presented. I can’t stress enough that Vietnamese traditional music is really beautiful, and unlike anything else you hear.

I had played Western classical music (piano and violin) my whole life, and learning the dan bau was a fun way to break out of the rigid structure of classical music. Playing in Breath of Asia has allowed me to learn a lot about traditional music and how it can be modified to incorporate other musical elements.

Our ensemble members come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds, and when we collaborated on the music, we each brought our own take on different parts of the songs. You’ll hear some cool jazz, classical, and taiko influences in the music.

What can audiences expect from your upcoming show?  What can they expect in the future?

Audiences can expect to see some cool instruments and awesome jams. Van-Anh tears it up on the dan tranh (zither), dan bau (monochord), and dan t’rung (bamboo xylophone).

The future of this group is unclear right now, but we’re hoping to keep playing this kind of music for other audiences in the Bay Area and throughout the country.

Is there a site where fans can look up and support Breath of Asia?

We don’t have a site right now, but fans can check out Van-Anh Vo’s website here: http://www.vananhvo.com/.

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