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22/02/2020 - 07:46

The inspiration for love songs

One day in the beginning of 2019, Nguyen Trong Khoi called me from Boston, USA and said that he really wanted to have an exhibition in Hue: “Please try your best to do me this favor!” After many exhibitions in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang, my friend has the ambition to make a debut with the public in the city he has the affinity with.

Nguyen Trong Khoi by the Huong river

In October 2015, when Nguyen Trong Khoi finished the exhibition at Gallery La Tour Eiffel by the Han river, Danang, we had a trip to Hoi An and then to Hue.

It was raining in Hue due to the effects of a storm although it was still late summer. I took my friend to visit the monuments and tombs, to Kim Long – the hometown of his wife, to a café by the river to catch up with friends he had in Saigon many years ago, and to Phu Cam church.

We covered top-to-toe with raincoat and walked under the rain, along the river and along the streets in the Citadel. We sometimes stopped so that Khoi could behold the people soaked in the rain. To my surprise, the rainy days in Hue became the inspiration for his love song of ‘Rainy Hue’:

The rain yesterday still casts a cold feeling

On my shoulders as I walk along the river

Oh my darling, the sunset is fading

On a peaceful day, with the remainder.

No longer exists the moment,

Hue feels melancholy, and so do you and I.

Remember when we first met,

The gentle melody was deep in our mind.

The unforgettable words

Inspired a passionate love song.”

I first heard the song of rainy Hue via a clip he recorded and posted on Facebook, and I realized that my friend had already fallen in love with the ancient capital, which “inspired a passionate love song” in an artist full of emotions about the native land. Apart from ‘Rainy Hue’, Nguyen Trong Khoi has written music for the two poems, ‘My Hue’ (by Phan Xuan Sinh) and ‘My Mom - Dong Khanh’ (by Nguyen Hoang Anh Thu):

“In my Hue, it is rainy and sunny, changeably

To my Hue, travelers come and go, suddenly

He who wants to seek the moon in Vy Da garden

Turns out to go to Phu Van Lau wharf then.”

My Mom – Dong Khanh of the old day

At Truong Tien bridge spanning the purple rain

My Mom – Dong Khanh of the old day

Whose image, in my mind, still remains

And this morning it is raining, overwhelmingly gray

In a corner of those days.”

When we were young, Khoi was ever well-known among artists and journalists in Saigon for his instrument playing skills and beautiful bass voice which was said to be as good as that of Si Phu and Duy Trac.” In casual boozer-ups, Nguyen Trong Khoi often played an instrument and sang with all passion.

Stone horse – a lacquer painting (collected by Tran Hau Tuan)

Migrating to the USA in the 1980s, Khoi continued with painting and started writing songs. He finished dozens of songs within a few years and released CDs with collections of songs about hometown, love and friendship performed by Vietnamese oversea singers. He also had two collections of songs ‘Me and the Shadow of Hometown’ (which he wrote music for his friends’ poems) and ‘Let the time pass by’.

Among the painting artists, he is widely known both in Vietnam and the USA as the music writer. Khoi used to say: “There are two parallel streams of painting and music running through in my blood. Music is used as a means to connect and stay connected with other people, and like literature, it forms in me a beautiful life and soul needed for my creativity and the confidence and optimism to love life and people more.”

Music is part of Nguyen Trong Khoi’s artistic qualities, as a music critic in America put it: “It seems that the lyrics are poetically rhythmic and that he is painting a picture of words when we read or listen to Nguyen Trong Khoi’s. The audience absorbs the songs in the way they acquired the mother’s lullabies in their childhood” (Nguyen Anh Van).

Nguyen Trong Khoi’s exhibition in Hue in early August, 2019 was his beautiful memory. It was the best exhibition space, which he had never had before. He was very impressed by the support from friends and colleagues.

“I will return soon and stay longer to paint. I have too many things to explore in Hue,” Khoi said to me at the closing ceremony of his gallery ‘Hometown Memory’.

The first visit to Hue left him two paintings especially for Hue. The work ‘Stone Horse’ of Hue in the heyday was melancholic with the two main colors blue and gray with a fanciful golden flash. The artist was deep in the spatial and temporal quietness. On the other hand, the work ‘Purplish Hue’ had lively eye-catching colors, which is a way the artist shows his love for Hue.

Painting is a way of singing through colors. “It is simple that song singing needs audience. I choose to have my paintings exhibited in Vietnam simply because it is where I belong and have professional activities with other artists in the same journey, and it is where I speak the language that is unnecessarily translated. Here I can feel the breath of the rice field and the smoothness of the river. I expressed my emotions in my works as a way I expressed my gratitude to friendliness and sympathy.”

Story and photos: Nguyen Trong Chuc

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