I have seen the term “nhac sen” being tossed around in various blogs and Web sites. Not only people don’t like to admit that they do listen to “nhac sen,” but they also hate to acknowledge that they don’t know what “nhac sen” is. So when being asked, they just throw out names like Truong Vu, Tuan Vu, Nhu Quynh, Manh Quynh, Manh Dinh, Ngoc Son, and Ngoc Ha. (Wait! Not the little chick with the big-ass voice. Let me take that back before somebody jumps on me.)
According to Thanh Nien‘s “Nhac ‘Sen’ La Gi?,” they argue that the word “sen” comes from “sen” (without the accent), which means maid. Because the music is being categorized in the lower class, the lyrics have to be easy to understand. Musically speaking, “nhac sen” has been written mostly, but not always, in bolero form. If you pay close attention to “sen” tunes, you will notice that the same rhythmic and harmonic are being used throughout the song from one bar to the next. With the lacking of inventions, variations, and improvisations, “Nhac Sen” is easy to spot. And how many times a “sen” singer like Truong Vu switches up his flow? That’s right, zero. Listening to his full album is like watching Chinese TV series. It just goes on and on. But that is what “nhac sen” is all about—a form of storytelling similar to American’s country music, which has been labeled as “cheesy” and “campy.”
If “nhac sen” is written correctly with folks essence embedded, and sung by the right singer, the listening experience could be rewarding. Some of the musicians who had written good “nhac sen” include Hoang Thi Tho, Lam Phuong, Anh Bang, Pham Dinh Chuong, and Pham Duy (yes, even Pham Duy has penned some “sen” songs too). So there is nothing wrong to admit that you like “nhac sen.” Don’t let people dictate your taste.