Voices of Vietnam: A Century of Radio, Red Songs, and Revolution

Lecture | October 1 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Lonan O'Briain, Associate Professor of Music, University of Nottingham

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

Following the Geneva Accords of 1954, Voice of Vietnam Radio (VOV) employed an array of ensembles that performed newly composed, communist-themed red songs (nhạc do) and revolutionary songs (ca khuc cach mạng) from the First Indochina War. By the end of the 1950s, their troupes of musicians were recording and touring with songs that remain popular among a nostalgic cohort of the population today. A wired loudspeaker network ensured broadcasters had unimpeded access to their listenership in the North, while broadcasting towers at the 17th parallel and powerful transmissions provided access to listeners in the South. These infrastructural developments coincided with an escalation of tensions in the Second Indochina War (1955-75), which fuelled a golden age of radio and red songs in North Vietnam.

This lecture reconstructs an oral history of music production processes and listening practices during the Second Indochina War, when radio was the principal mass medium for sound-based communications and the primary source for new music. The research draws on interviews with current and former employees of the VOV, supplemented by recent print collections and archival documents from personal collections and the National Archives I and III in Hanoi. This talk argues that the ongoing veneration of singers, songs, and stories from this golden age of radio constructs a particular narrative about Vietnamese history that commemorates the achievements of the Communist Party and perpetuates its control in the reform era.

Prof. O’Briain is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music and soundscapes of Vietnam and of upland areas in mainland Southeast Asia. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Sheffield, and has studied music performance at the Royal Northern College of Music, the University of Huddersfield and the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He is the author of Musical Minorities: The Sounds of Hmong Ethnicity in Northern Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018) and co-editor of two forthcoming volumes, Sound Communities: Music, Media, and Technology in the Asia Pacific (Bloomsbury, 2021) and Made in Ireland: Studies in Popular Music (Routledge, 2020). His current book project traces the history of sound reproduction and broadcasting in Vietnam.

 cseas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-3609