I’m always drawn to the classic Vietnamese music that speaks to the youth of its period. That’s because even though it’s sometimes difficult to relate to your elders as they are now — decades ahead of you in life experience and thus having markedly different perspectives on the world — their younger selves were probably more like you than you care to admit. Skipping school, going out with friends, causing trouble, flirting with other young people … that’s some stuff I can understand! So when I was picking my Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) song for 2018, I just had to go with Thiên Duyên Tiền Định, by Hoài An and Hoài Linh under the pen names Trang Dũng Phương and Nguyên Lễ, a duet about the springtime flirtations of two young people.
The songbook was published in 1970, and the most iconic performance, by Mai Lệ Huyền and Hùng Cường, was recorded soon after, probably 1972. Another notable version was the rendition by Elvis Phương and Connie Kim in 1973.
It’s a playful song that has had a funky groove even in its earliest versions, and this tendency has continued in more recent covers, like the one by Quốc Khanh and Hà Thanh Xuân for ASIA Entertainment.
I wanted to bring the song even closer to that funky sound in my own version, so I literally spent an entire week listening to classic acts like Parliament and Funkadelic, as well as more recent stuff like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (RIP Sharon Jones). My wife was cool with this plan for about a day before the continuous funk took her to the brink of insanity and she begged for mercy.
As for the details of my production, I basically started with a guitar groove (Applied Acoustics’ Strum is a life-saving plugin for a non-guitarist), added drum and bass on top, and then just kept layering horns, strings, etc. until I was satisfied. The main parts were performed on đàn bầu (female part) and đàn kìm/đàn nguyệt (male part). These parts were recorded naturally, but I did apply some effects to the solos in the middle to make the đàn bầu sound a bit like a Rhodes piano and to give the đàn kìm a little distortion and wah-wah.
Finally, make sure you turn on captions on my video for oriignal Vietnamese or English translated lyrics!
Happy new year and enjoy!