Nhớ bến Đà giang [Missing the Đà river] is a beautiful song composed by the Vietnamese songwriter Văn Phụng (1930-1999).
Văn Phụng was born in Hanoi, and he received his secondary education at lycée Albert Sarraut, the same school as that of Khái Hưng and many other historical figures. At age 15, he won the first prize in a piano competition held at Hanoi Opera House after performing La prière d’une vierge by Bądarzewska-Baranowska. As he turned 17, he dropped out of medical college to pursue his music career.
Due to the outbreak of the First Indochina War, he moved to Nam Định and took refuge in the Tứ Trùng church where he met Father Mai Xuân Đinh and continued learning music from him. In 1948, he returned to Hanoi and made friends with those who subsequently became famous songwriters in South Vietnam including Nhật Bằng, Nguyễn Hiền, and Vũ Thành. During this time, he also had the chance to get instructed on music composing by a French conductor of German descent called Schmetzer. Also in this year, he released his debut Ô mê ly [My, oh, my]; the song was soon popularized, especially thanks to Thái Thanh and the Thăng Long choir.
After the 1954 Geneva Conference, Văn Phụng migrated from North Vietnam to South Vietnam and worked as the conductor for a radio station of the Republic of Vietnam. Since he sometimes missed his homeland in the North, he composed Nhớ bến Đà giang in order to express his longing, his nostalgia for the people and the scenery of long-lost roots. The lyrics of this song, however, were written by another person, a woman living in Hậu Giang named Chiêu Tranh.
Here is my English translation of the song lyrics:
Those who travel to the Đà river,
please help me carry a loving message
to the thatched cottage by the row of betel palm trees
It’s been a while since the separation
Still, I miss my beloved relatives and friends
I miss the tender rhythm of the paddles
by those boatmen wearing torn garments
Try listening to the lament of the moon and the winds
and you would feel melancholy while watching the river flows
Those big green waves still move the tiny boats
Would you still remember me, though?
I miss the old days
on the boat with the moving paddles
gently the winds sang a lullaby to the water
Those who row downstream
or across the stream
help me send the nostalgia filling my heart
to my beloved Đà river
Unfortunately, Văn Phụng didn’t have any chance to see his old river again because, after 1975, he and his family had to flee from Vietnam to settle in another country as refugees. He lived in Indonesia until his death on December 17, 1999.