Tri Minh has always had music running through his veins. Coming from a lineage of Vietnamese musicians, Minh’s father, Thuan Yen, and mother, Thanh Huong, were both prominent songwriters for the resistance and ultimately the unification of Vietnam during the American War. His sister, Thanh Lam, is also currently known as one of four Vietnamese musical divas. There was little doubt that Minh’s life would be destined to include music as well.
Minh first began learning classical piano theory at the age of six; although begrudgingly at first, Minh would eventually be grateful of the sacrifice.
“For most kids, when you are that young and see friends outside playing, I did not find the piano enjoyable,” Minh says. “I felt forced to play, but when I grew up, I saw that I had to trade off some part of my life. I am very thankful now I have the ability to play and create music.”
Embracing his gift for music, Minh has spent the better part of three decades performing in Vietnam and overseas. Throughout his long career, Minh has seen many musical trends come and go. It is this ever-changing musical shift which would be paramount in defining Minh’s own musical style.
“During the 1980s, new influences came to Vietnam from the Vietnamese returning from overseas, and the expat community. I started to play jazz with some of the local musicians, and that’s when I shifted from a more classical background to contemporary music.”
Minh spent much of the early 1990s helping create Vietnam’s first jazz band. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Minh began experimenting with electronic music and collaborating with electronic musicians from both Vietnam and Europe, a transformation he was prepared for.
“I don’t think changing [musical genres] is difficult, but changing and still making good music is very difficult,” Minh says regarding his transition from analogue to digital. “Having a background in classical training is a plus.”
Minh now calls Copenhagen home. Far from Vietnam’s borders, he has the ability to see the country from an outsider’s perspective; a point of view that he says has given him new inspiration in his current musical endeavours.
“There are a lot of opportunities in Vietnam, but it is also very limiting. There’s not a lot of ‘you’ in Vietnam,” Minh explains of the country’s ability to assimilate its individuals. “You cannot expand your skills and techniques there. When I first moved to Europe, I faced a lot of difficulties, but at the same time it was very good. I learnt a lot from it. In Vietnam, it is very easy to make a career and money, but it is good to go out and challenge yourself. People should go and explore.”
Minh has been doing just that, performing on both sides of the planet. He has also noticed differences in the way Vietnamese audiences and overseas audiences react to his compositions; both having their own distinctions.
“The Vietnamese fans are curious and very open. They want to know more, but the problem is they shift a lot,” Minh explains. “Today, they can see a very cutting-edge contemporary artist, but the next day they can go to a rave party. They have no distinction of both genres. Unlike in Europe, the market is already developed. The people come because they know what to expect, but at the same time, since it’s so developed, it is also very fragmented. People [in Europe] are not curious enough and open to new things.”
Music Without Borders
Recently, Minh has once again returned to his love of jazz, this time incorporating what he has learnt while in the world of bits and bytes. He is currently collaborating with Danish jazz singer Nanna Bottos. The duo formed The Bay Collective, a group of rotating musicians with jazz and pop sensibilities. “The Bay Collective are two people, but we also ask a lot of our musician friends to participate as well. We are a very open platform and want to input more musicians into our live show.”
Releasing their first album Landscape, The Bay Collective is music free of borders. A goal that is also evocative in the band’s name.
“The Bay Collective has two meanings,” Minh explains. “We are based in Copenhagen, we have many harbours and bays, and in Vietnamese, bay also translates to flying. We are aiming high, and that is the meaning of crossing different cultures together.”
The Bay Collective will perform at the upcoming Quest Festival, Hanoi’s two-day music and visual arts event taking place from Nov. 10 to 12 at Son Tinh Camp. Minh will also debut some of his new electronic works as well, which explores the boundaries of his music both aurally and visually. To hear their music, click here. For more info on Quest Festival click on questfestival.net
Photos provided by Tri Minh / Quest Festival