Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hai Trieu (Vietnam)
(He’s been in Japan since 2001)
We met him for the first time at the event called “Love Asia Vol.18” which was held in Shibuya in October 2012. Its slogan is “Unify Asian nations through music” and Hai sang songs with his band. He looked a little bit small in stature from a distance, but we were really amazed with the incredible strength of his voice and his commanding performance.
After his show, we were called by Ayaka Sugiyama, MC/organizer of the event who is the Executive Director of Kawakami Sangyo, to come on stage. While the next performer “GYPSY QUEEN” was preparing for their performance, we said, “we were really moved by your voice so can I interview you?” to Hai, who was already in the audience, through a microphone.
We’ve never made such a proposal for an interview but Hai said OK willingly. He speaks about how much he loves Japan calmly and slowly in very fluent Japanese.
Photos by Hai Trieu
Spreading my songs to Japanese people
I believe that I’ve really grown as a human being and it has made me reflect on things since I came to Japan. Of course I grew up with age, but I developed my thinking through learning Japanese virtues and absorbing them. Those are reflected in my songs.
I used to attach importance to the singing technique. But now I think a great deal of spreading my songs to people. I want to have my songs carry my messages to the hearts of Japanese people. I’m sure that I can do that because Japanese people are moved by my songs. Some of them cried at my songs and others came to see my performance from far off places.
When I start singing in Japan, I didn’t think people loved my Japanese songs. But I realized that I would be able to reach them if I sang my heart out and Japanese pronunciation is not a big deal. I love the Japanese language. I’ve been loving the language since I started learning it. I still feel very happy even when I learn a new vocabulary word from lyrics.
Infant genius in Vietnam
My parents said that I sang everyday after I started to speak. I often appeared on stage at my elementary school. I represented my school and won the first prize in big singing contests many times. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but my teacher gave me higher marks than I expected. Moreover, I won the cup for more than 12 consecutive years in the contest which was held at my school so I was a kind of a big name among the 1,000 students of the school.
Then I started singing on TV/radio shows in Vietnam at random times. I sang at the stations when I received invitations from program staff.
But I didn’t think of being a professional singer. My parents told me that I should go to university and make a living by using knowledge because a singer is unstable. I totally agreed with them, so I majored in English at University of Hue (Current Hue University of Science) because I was interested in language. But I didn’t stop singing even after I entered the university. I sang songs at university and sometimes at live houses in the night.
Characters written on a rice cooker
When I was a child, of course I didn’t know Japanese at all. But I saw bonsais at my classmate’s house when I was in the second grade in junior high school. His father loved bonsai so I learned the word. His brother was living in Russia at that time and bought a rice cooker for them. Its instructions were written in several languages including Japanese.
Of course I didn’t know it was Japanese, but its characters looked very beautiful. So I got really interested in it. But there was neither a Japanese school nor a Japanese textbook. However I decided to learn the language and waited for the opportunity for a long time.
Finally a Japanese school was opened in Hue when I was a college student. It was operated by Japanese (*now closed). I applied to the school and passed the exam.
“Dad” brought me to Japan
The number of students of the Japanese school was only 20 in total. The entrance exam was in English and no school fee was needed. The exam was difficult however, but fortunately I passed it. The more I studied Japanese, the more I loved the language and culture. After I graduated the school, I sometimes did jobs using Japanese.
Let me tell you an interesting story. A president of a Japanese machine maker based in Kyoto came to my town on business. He asked a local travel bureau to have an interesting guide who can speak Japanese because he wanted to enjoy sightseeing during his work breaks. Then I was picked as his guide. I had enough time to do that so I met their request.
One day, after he went back home, he called me. He said, “Do you want to come to Japan?” Of course I said, “Yes, I do!”. He made an arrangement very quickly and then I went there for three months.
Kyoto was especially impressive. There are many temples in my town like Kyoto so I really loved it and went to many sites.
Moreover every time he went on a business trip, he brought me with him! While he was having meetings with his clients, his friends took me to beautiful places.
Thanks to him, I enjoyed traveling around the country. Before that, I learned about Japan only in magazines or TV. But everybody I met in Japan was very kind to me, I learned a lot more about Japan and then I took more of an interest in Japan. So I decided to study in Japan after I went back home.
I call him “dad”. He still treats me like his child. The encounter with him was exactly fateful. If I didn’t meet him, I would never come to Japan. So I’m truly grateful for my “dad”.
Major debut in Vietnam
I was thinking of studying mass media in university in Japan because I wanted to produce a Japanese language education program at a TV station in Vietnam. I came to Japan with such an ambition and entered a university which offers video editing/communication programs.
It had a very unique class – “Singing songs on stage” – students practice their singing with a professor and each of them sing a song on stage on exam. I found that kind of class even though I didn’t expect that I would be able to have an opportunity to sing at all because Japan was totally new to meso I took the class right away.
I sang a ’90s Japanese song called “Shima-Uta” (島唄 Island Song), which was written by The Boom, on exam. Then a professor told me, “You should be a singer here in Japan! I think you don’t need to come to my class”. Not only he but also my classmates said that. Also every time I sang songs at events that were held by the Vietnamese students association, Vietnam Embassy, meetings held by wives of ambassadors from Asian countries, the audience said that I should be a singer in Japan. Those feedbacks gave me much power. I wanted to chase a dream I gave up when I left home. If I teach Japanese or Japanese culture to Vietnamese, I’ll do that through songs. It means I cannot do anything without singing.
In 2006, I made contact with the president of the biggest record company in Vietnam and I said, “I want to release an album”. She already knew me because my friend told her about me. She said OK and asked a famous producer to make my album with me. Then finally I released the major debut album in Vietnam with the big support of them. Before then, I sang songs because I loved singing. But I developed a clear awareness of becoming a professional singer and a responsibility for singing for people.
I want to sing Japanese songs in Japan
My major debut album included the Vietnamese version of “Shima-Uta”, which I sang in Japan, and some Japanese songs that were originally sang in Vietnamese. I translated them into Japanese. It was a really hard job, but people who were studying Japanese listened to the album after the release. I appeared on many Vietnamese TV and radio broadcasts and got known as a “Vietnamese singer who sings in Japanese”.
So I thought of being a “Vietnamese singer who sings in Japanese in Vietnam” – I guess nobody ever became like that – but there are few people who can understand Japanese. So I couldn’t give up a dream of being the first Vietnamese singer who sings in Japanese in Japan.
When I made a major debut in Vietnam, I was studying Japanese language education at a grad school in Japan. But I couldn’t show up for class very much and it was very hard for me to keep up with the course content because it was a professional course. So I was obliged to take a leave of absence from school and started running toward my new dream.
Hai appeared on stage in the US. The concert was held for telling local people about the sufferers of the Agent Orange. Hai heard from the American audience that there are many Americans who love peace and who suffered from the Vietnam War. Hai created a different feel to them.
Washington DC, 2008
Connecting Vietnam with Japan by singing
Some of you may think that I went a long way around to being a professional singer. Actually some of my friends directed their courses and pressed on toward the goals without hesitation. I don’t know which is better, but I have no regrets at all.
I met a Japanese band called “GYPSY QUEEN” who connects Asian countries with Japan. They invited me to join the 2nd Vietnamese Festival in 2009. Also I teach Vietnamese to Shinon, a vocalist of GYPSY QUEEN. My 2nd album which was released in Vietnam and it includes the Vietnamese version of the Japanese song called “Shimanchu-nu Takara” (島人の宝, Islander’s Treasures). College students in Vietnam sing that! And Vietnamese media covers my activities like joining in the charity concerts. I feel this stuff connect Vietnam with Japan. I’m really happy with that.
I want to keep singing about my affection toward my family, my home, my younger days and love here in Japan.
What is Japan to you?
My second home.
To me, Japan is a foreign country. But I don’t feel lonely at all. Of course I felt alone when I first came to Japan. But people really supported me and they were very warmhearted. So I love both my home where I used to be and Japan where now I’m in.
So I didn’t think of going back home at all when the 3.11 Earthquake occurred in 2011. I thought that my parents would worry about me, so I explained what was happening to me and in Japan before they made me a phone call.
I have many precious friends here and everybody goes about his/her daily life even after 3.11, so I thought of living in Japan with them as I did before.
I would like to bring you a song. It’s called “Home”, which is known by all Vietnamese. My Japanese friend wrote the Japanese lyrics and arranged the song with a Vietnamese musician. So it symbolizes myself, who works as a bridge between Vietnam and Japan.
I’ve sung mainly pops, ballad and R&B so far. I’ve not sung folk songs or ones that sing about home, but I really wanted to introduce Japanese to this song so I tried to sing. It sounds easy to sing, but actually it’s difficult to vocalize. A Japanese musician arranged it into a Vietnamese style and I sing it in Japanese – That’s the cultural exchange between Vietnam and Japan!
Composed by: Giap Van Thach
Lyrics by: Do Trung Quan
Japanese lyrics by: Yoshio Matsushima
Arranged by: Yoshio Matsushima & Tran Gia Hoa