Ngọc Đại

“which masterpiece that is not an unknown masterpiece?
which genius that is not an incomprehensible genius?”
(Nhị Linh)

Even now the music of Ngọc Đại is being given a fierce denunciation, which proved that the public’s ability of critical appreciation is developing at a snail’s pace.

The exile of Ngọc Đại itself is an accusation of our time’s hypocrisy. With “butt” and “groin” in its lyrics, Thằng Mõ by Ngọc Đại suffered a vicious campaign of disparagement, but shortly after that, “pussy” and “cock” become too all-encompassing through social media. Decency and obscenity were switched!

Ngọc Đại is akin to the dissident poet Trần Dần, but he belongs to the generation of Nguyễn Đình Chính, the son of Nguyễn Đình Thi. It’s the generation of “old veterans whose eyes are trampled over by the billboards”.

Thằng mõ is an echo of “many spoken silence” and “many unspoken speeches”. It’s the honesty. Ngọc Đại could be right or wrong, but his honesty is unquestionable.

to survive
after stolen dreams
dark hallway
affection for flesh
the outcast
with his happiness of
a monologue in a dark field
blind blood
blind tears
the dazzling can
burst out painful syllables
waiting for
light
head upside down
to the land
violent language
revives
(Listening to Thằng mõ & the voice of Ngọc Đại, Phạm Mạnh Hiên)

The performances of Linh Dung and Thanh Lâm were deemed crazy as hysteria or spirit possession, but what’s the point of spirit possession if we are not crazy?

“To live is to perform a spirit possession; it’s the spirit of a man, a woman, sometimes a lord, a goddess, a demon. People are only happy when they get out of their ego, the despicable ego, as Pascal once said. Have you ever seen the shamans during the possession? Their face is brightened, their eyes seem sparkling, their lips are enigmatically smiling, their gestures are inviting, their body gyrates to the lyre’s rhythm, their soul floats in the mist. Beautiful! They are much more beautiful than whom they usually are, when they have to live with their plain self whom they loathe. For now, they are no longer themselves. They are just this woman or that man they felt to be, who they certainly believe are beautiful, and they are indeed beautiful. I love watching such spirit possession. I’m worrying that one day this exotic performing arts full of love and philosophy will be destroyed. It will be condemned as superstition, a beautiful superstition, though” 

(Đẹp, Khái Hưng)

Đại Lâm Linh is irritating, begging the question of “how could this be even called music”. It’s a way to challenge the status quo and enable the changes of artistic creation. Embracing the uncertainty paves the way to innovation and freedom.

However, history once again proved that beauty must be broken, the new must be suppressed.

Ngọc Đại was exiled, and no savior’s voice is heard. The only one person who really did something significant was the scholar Barley Norton, with his documentary Hanoi Eclipse: The music of Dai Lam Linh.

(to be continued)

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