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Hanoi online guitar forum takes its love of music to the streets


Members of the hocdan.com forum gather besides Hoan Kiem Lake one Sunday afternoon in May

A group of young people with guitars sing Năm anh em trên má»™t chiếc xe tăng (Five brothers on a tank), a famous song during the Vietnam War. Around them, the audience, composed of both young and old, enthusiastically add their voices or simply applaud.

Hanoi is in its blazing hot days of summer. But the Ly Thai To Flower Garden near Hoan Kiem Lake seems to be even hotter on a Sunday afternoon like this when members of an online guitar forum, hocdan.com, meet and perform every Sunday afternoon with their guitars, Cajon drums and harmonicas.

The street musicians tend attract lots of passersby who stop and watch or join the musical reverie, lasts late into the evening.

Established in October, 2011 by Hieu Orion, one of the most famous guitarists in Hanoi, hocdan.com now boasts 40,000 members, most of whom are students.

"I always have a special love and respect for the street artists," Hieu reveals.

"When visiting foreign countries, I like watching them playing passionately on the pavements, at underground stations or parks, without really paying attention to whether there are people listening to them or not. They play primarily to satisfy their love for the art. And I think this is the thing that lures and impresses audiences."

With this in mind, Hieu set out a slogan for his group that reads Đơn giản thôi mà, which literally translates to, "Make it easy." He always encourages new members, saying that they only need to have a love for the guitar and then can learn the first and basic lessons from other members.

"There were many times when I invited a friend to join me out on the street, he said he was afraid of playing wrong," Hieu explains. "That's because street art is still a very new phenomena in Vietnam. I took me sometime to persuade and explain to the first members, that we just want to show people our love for the art rather than how well we play. But ever since our first "˜street shows,' people have kept keep joining and watching us."

In addition to exchanging experiences through chat rooms, Hieu and other members post clips and lesson online at the forum for newcomers to follow. He also organizes guitar classes and posts information on everything related to folk music on the website.

According to Nguyen Van Tien, one of the first members of the hocdan.com forum, an offline meeting first brought them to the streets.

"I can still remember my first impressions of the street atmosphere then," Tien recalls. "It was not like at any stage I had ever performed before. It was just great."

Nguyen Lan Anh, a student at Hanoi University of Foreign Trade, says that she has been a member of the group for three months and finds this a wonderful place to relax and release stress. "I've never missed a Sunday gathering here since I joined the group," Anh says. "Playing here I feel that I am very close to my audience and can share my feelings with them better."

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Pham Quang Nghia from Chu Van An High School says that he has made lot of new friends who share his passion for playing the guitar here. "I've learnt a lot from other members here and from the audience also," adding that his most memorable experience was when an old war veteran came by and joined them on a song about a Vietnamese heroine during the Vietnam war called Người con gái sông La (The girl by the La River).

"He then told us an interesting story about heroine La Thi Tam, the girl in the song, who had bravely helped clear American bombs at the Dong Loc T-junction in central Ha Tinh Province to prepare ways for transporting weapons and food for Vietnamese soldiers during the late 1960s," Nghia says. "He said that we should know about the origin of the songs so as to sing them better."

Tien, Lan Anh, Nghia and their group members also get many requests from young couples who would like the artists to play a song dedicated to their partners.


Veteran Ta Tri Hai joined his young friends

Sometimes, the young artists are joined by an older violinist, Ta Tri Hai, a famous street artist who has been playing on the street corners of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, winning the adoration of many. The atmosphere is always more electric when Hai attends.

"I am 74 years old now but that does not make any difference in music," Hai explains. "We share the same love for music. And singing together with young people makes me feel that I am as young and healthy as they are."

The Hanoi-born artist also formed a street music club six years in HCMC. Ngàn sao (Thousands of stars) gathers many young people who play in the streets and public parks.

He recently traveled to Hanoi where, in addition to performing with on the streets with the members of hocdan.com, has been seen accompanying young students on their charity trips to local hospitals.

After Hanoi and HCMC, street music performances have also been brought by members of the guitar forum to other cities across the country such as Hue, Hai Phong and Nha Trang.

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