Revisiting Asia’s Dance Classics

It was a bittersweet moment in October last year when Trúc Hồ and several singers took to Facebook to announce their departure from Asia Entertainment. The production is undergone a much-needed major shakeup. Under Trúc Hồ’s political agenda and antediluvian direction, Asia has been producing same old songs and concepts over and over again for the past decade. With the new management, the future of Asia is uncertain, but its legacy is worth celebrating.

In the past few weeks, I have been revisiting my Asia’s CD collection and the albums that brought back so much nostalgia were the dance classics starting with Dạ Vũ Đen. The track on this album that gets me every time is Lâm Thuý Vân’s ”Giã Từ Tình Yêu (Goodbye Love).” Her sweet, soulful voice is damn irresistible right from the opening: “When you say you were going to leave me I just broke down and cry / The love we had together was so strong and it will never die.” The backup singing from Don Hồ added a bonus of pleasure to the song.

Speaking of my man Don Hồ, his rendition of “Thôi” remains one of the freshest reinterpretations of Y Vân’s popular classic. Unlike most arrangements, which set in the cha-cha-cha rhythm, Asia turned it into a new-wave production. In addition, Đỗ Phủ had written the tune in English and turned “Thôi” (Cease) to “Tears.” Don Hồ sings in his signature whispering timbre: “Tears, when you came / Broke my heart / Broke my soul / Left me pain / Forever life missed you / All my life / Tragedy, game of love / Tears, eyes in tears when we part.” I transcribed this song to learn English back in the mid 90s.

In contrast to “Thôi,” I loved Đỗ Phủ’s Vietnamese translation of Marc Almond’s “A Love Spurned.” After the orchestrated intro, Don Hồ effortlessly sings, “Tình yêu đắm say / Tình yêu đắng cay / Đã yêu chấp nhận / Cuộc tình nồng cháy / Lệ rơi chán chường.”

Other outstanding tracks from Dạ Vũ Đen include Lâm Thuý Vân’s “Tình Đã Bay Xa,” a seducing rumba flavor, Lâm Thuý Vân and Trunh Hành’s hypnotic duet on the cha-cha-cha “Mưa Rơi, ” and Kiều Nga’s sensational tango on “Trời Còn Làm Mưa Mãi.”

Somehow I didn’t appreciate Ngọc Thành’s bossa-nova “Cuộc Tình Phôi Phải” until recently. He has such a charming baritone. I don’t even know how he had disappeared from the Vietnamese music scene.

My next favorite albums is The Best of Dạ Vũ which opens with an upbeat cha-cha-cha “Tình Si” performed by Lâm Thuý Vân. At this point, she was my dream girl—as well as all the Vietnamese teenage boys. She had a sexy voice complimented with a voluptuous look.

At that time, Don Hồ had become my idol and his version of “Mưa Trên Biển Vắng” was one of my personal favorites. His smoky tone on the low register was so damn alluring. Maneuvering his flow around the rumba arrangement, he sings with so much soul and effortlessness. “Kỷ Niệm Trong Tôi” is another rumba gem. His calm and soothing delivery was irreplaceable. These days he tends to over emphasize his singing and prefers technical skills over natural expression.

Other excellent dance tracks on The Best of Dạ Vũ include Ngọc Hương’s cha-cha-cha “Liên Khúc Vũ Điệu Vui,” Lâm Thuý Vân’s European-upbeat “Nụ Hôn Xin Hãy Cho,” and Trung Hành’s mambo-inflected “Yêu Người Khôn Nguôi.” Trung Hành’s hoarse, dusty vocals always intrigued me. He was also a skillful guitarist and arranger.

The track that always stayed with me from this album is Kenny Thái’s “Thầm Gọi Người Yêu Dấu,” a slow-burning ballad. Kenny was one of the best Vietnamese singers who could sing well in English. His diction was flawless. Here is his endearing and convincing confession that is worth quoting in full:

All my friends been asking about you
I tell them you are doing fine
That you will call
That you’ll call to say hello
I am sorry for all the lies I said
I tried so hard they hurt me
To tell the truth my love
I cannot sleep at night
I’ll keep on waiting for you
You’ll understand the lies I said about you
I know I should have told the truth
That I just broke your heart
That you and I had a wrong way
I am sorry love
It’s me who lets you go away
I am sorry love.

The success of The Best of Dạ Vũ in 1991 prompted the volume-two release in 1992. Don Hồ once again contributed two instant classics: the energetic cha-cha-cha “Nhạc Tình Xanh” and the slow jam “Tình Mãi Lên Đênh.” The former showed off Asia’s electronic synthesizer, which was quite mesmerizing and unmistakable. The latter showed off Don Hồ’s impeccable ballad crooning. Likewise, Lâm Thuý Vân contributed a soul-stirring rendition of “Thoáng Mưa Xa” and an upbeat version of “Hoang Vắng.” Kenny Thái also brought his club vibe to “Tình Yêu Còn Đó.”

Even though the CD sleeves in those days didn’t provide the credits for the producers, Sỹ Đan was responsible for a handful of dance tracks on this album, including his own “Tình Yêu! Lời Kinh Đêm,” “Tình Yêu Còn Đó,” and “Hoang Vắng.” He championed this gothic, haunting, and pumping grooves.

Asia continued to release many more The Best of Dạ Vũ series, but the contributed singers had changed. Don Hồ, Trung Hành, Kenny Thái, and Ngọc Hương were no longer participated. I collected all the way up to volume 8, but they did not live up to the first three, which played a part of my childhood.