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Singer Bob Dylan to Perform in Vietnam

Bob Dylan performs (file photo)
Bob Dylan performs (file photo)

Legendary American folk singer Bob Dylan is to perform in Ho Chi Minh City. But musicians in the country say many young Vietnamese are not familiar with his music and anti-establishment reputation.

Dylan, whose songs inspired the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States, will perform in Vietnam on Sunday for the first time.

He wrote his most famous songs in the 1960s, just as U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began to escalate.

Two Vietnamese musicians say Bob Dylan’s April 10 concert in Ho Chi Minh City, which follows his first concerts in neighboring China, will mostly draw older fans.

Tran Manh Tuan is a Ho Chi Minh City composer and saxophonist who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The 42-year-old says young Vietnamese mostly listen to contemporary “commercial music” and are not familiar with Dylan’s songs nor his ties to the American counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Bob’s music is very, very deep, and of course it takes time to enjoy it, so I think they need time," the musician said. "This is a great opportunity for them to get to know [Dylan’s] great, great, great music and lyrics.”

About half of the country's population was born after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
Drummer Le Quang Minh owns Acoustic Cafe, a Ho Chi Minh City music club that caters to a young clientele. Minh estimates only 30 percent of the people who visit his club know about Bob Dylan.

“This is not a show for young people - it’s a show for people who are over 30 years old," noted Minh. "Young people [who will attend] just want to come and see because a lot of [Vietnamese] people have been talking about this guy. It doesn’t mean they love his music.”
Minh, 35, says many young Vietnamese think Dylan’s famous song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was written by the American rock band Guns N’ Roses.

Last month, before the American pop band the Backstreet Boys performed in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, state-controlled Vietnamese media reported that 55,000 fans would attend the concerts.

The company promoting the concert says Dylan will perform at an 8,250-seat hall at RMIT University.

As with other concerts here, Vietnamese authorities required Dylan to submit the lyrics of songs he plans to perform for review.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party does not tolerate dissent, and many rights activists say the party increased its repression of dissidents and pro-democracy activists ahead of a five-year party Congress in January.

In Hanoi this week, a high-profile Vietnamese legal activist, Cu Huy Ha Vu, was sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of trying to subvert the government.

Dylan’s Ho Chi Minh City concert follows the 10th anniversary of the April 1 death of anti-war Vietnamese folksinger Trinh Cong Son, a contemporary of Dylan’s who was known internationally as the “Bob Dylan of Vietnam.”

On Wednesday, Dylan performed his first concert in China. A planned tour last year was scrapped, but the government gave approval for performances this year, as long as he stuck to an approved program.