Magical Nights – Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul (1964-1966)

(Sublime Frequencies) CD $16.00

The unique strengths and qualities of Phương Tâm’s voice, coupled with her commanding stage presence, elevated her to top billings on Saigon’s nightclub stages in the early 1960s, eventually catching the attention of record companies and composers (Y Vân, Khánh Băng, Trường Hải, Thanh Sơn, Y Vũ and Mặc Thế Nhân, among others). Her energy translated well in the studio, backed by electric guitars, contrabass, drums, lush brass sections, saxophone, piano, organ and rich backing vocals. Between 1964-1966, Phương Tâm became a vital centerpiece of pop music of the time, and one of the first singers to perform and record rock’n’roll (known locally as nhạc kích động, or action music). She could also transform a jazz ballad into something otherworldly. While these styles were influenced by contemporary trends worldwide, the musicians and composers worked to localize the sounds, incorporating linguistic adaptations, lyrical content and artistic traditions into something all their own. The album features 25 tracks, restored and remastered from original records and reel tapes, six-panel digipak, two 32-page booklets in English and Vietnamese, liner notes by Hannah Hà and Mark Gergis, exclusive photos, album and sheet music art, original magazine and newspaper extracts, nightclub advertisements and more. At the heart of this project is a family story – Hannah Hà’s dedication to recovering and sharing her mother’s musical legacy — and also a story that adds critical context to the fragmented understanding of Vietnamese popular culture during the 20th century, particularly after so much has been lost to war and dislocation.