Now that the roaring thunder of “Bonjour Vietnam” has subsided, Pham Quynh Anh releases the official version in English accompanied by a video. Although the studio track is much more polished, the emotional impact comes nowhere near the raw demo. From the beat to the vocals to the lyrics, the newer version doesn’t strike a chord the way that the previous version did.
If I were to hear the English version first, I wouldn’t have been as motivated to create the slideshow. Gone are the simple, melancholic strumming guitar, yearning vocal delivery and exquisite French lyrics that made “Bonjour Vietnam” such mesmerizing nostalgia. While the new production adds more sugar to the song, Quynh Anh’s phrasing sounds more restraint and less passionate in English than French. The quality of her voice remains unchanged, but the soul-searching desire to connect to her root has diminished. Furthermore, the English words don’t sound as lyrical. For instance, “One day, I’ll touch your soul / One day, I’ll finally know your soul,” can’t do the justice for: “Un jour, j’irai là bas / Un jour dire bonjour à ton âme.”
The differences between “Hello” and “Bonjour” proved that sometimes an unfinished, unpolished and unedited work should remain untouched. Miles Davis paid his musicians not to practice and he wanted every recording to make it on the first cut for one reason: the feeling.