Rap "n' roll

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Tang Quoc Anh, or Mr T as he is popularly known, has done something different to celebrate the upcoming millennial anniversary of Hanoi.

The 19-year-old student has composed a song entitled Ban sac Viet Nam (Vietnam's cultural spirit). He posted a four-minute clip of the piece online on September 15, garnering a deal of attention.

Its simple lyrics praise and highlight traditional Vietnamese culture. Many Internet users were surprised that the song was written by someone so young from a generation considered to be self-absorbed with no cultural identity.

What has really captured everyone's interest, however, is the way Quoc Anh has combined the sound of the traditional Vietnamese instrument dan tranh (16-chord zither) with rap, a genre that has not taken off in Vietnam.

The initial success of the track owes to the blend of modern and traditional styles, says DJ Nguyen Hong Phuc, who helped produce Ban sac Viet Nam.

"Most of the rap and hip-hop songs in Vietnam are heavily influenced by foreign music. We've taken this style and made it our own to create a true Vietnamese hip-hop track," he said.

"I knew right from the start that combining rap with dan tranh would work," he continued.

Quoc Anh told Thanh Nien that his inspiration stemmed from all the anticipation and excitement surrounding the upcoming 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi. The song takes national pride, history and solidarity as its main themes.

Quoc Anh and his band rehearsed for three days before releasing the track on the Internet.

Ban sac Viet Nam is not Quoc Anh's debut song. It is the first that has received so much public attention. After the song was released on the Internet, Quoc Anh was invited to perform at several concerts.

Meanwhile, many people are talking about the track.

"There's been quite a response. Many listeners have called to ask what happened "˜behind the scenes'," said Phuc.

Nguyen Van Kieu, a VnExpress online newspaper reader, commented that the track had changed his outlook on rap.

"I never used to like rap, but this song has made me change my mind," he said. "I was really impressed by Quoc Anh's effort and I appreciate it. It paints an interesting picture of Vietnam and its people."

The track hasn't only received positive feedback. Internet user Phan Hieu thinks Ban sac Viet Nam falls short. The song has the lyric "˜Welcome to Vietnam' in the refrain but it only talks about Hanoi and the north, he said.

"What about the central and the southern regions?" Hieu asked.

Anh Viet, a commerce student, thinks the traditional element in the song, the sound of the dan tranh, is ruined by the strong and brisk hip-hop beat.

Quoc Anh says he is aware of the criticism. But he takes it all in his stride.

He is more concerned about raising the profile of rap in a country where it is not popular.

According to Internet user Jonnie B.E. Fan, rap first appeared in Vietnam ten years ago when it came from the US. Views and opinions about the art vary widely among the Vietnamese. In his blog, Fan recognizes that many dislike the genre because they think local rappers have big egos. They refuse to share their work with the general public, leading to resentment among the hip-hop community.

Meanwhile, Thien Bao, a language student, said hip-hop is now more accepted than it used to be. He says that elements of hip-hop have been adapted to fit in with local styles.

"Famous international rappers like Eminem and 50 Cents use bad language and swear. Local Vietnamese don't like this. There is so much more to say and there's no need to put others down. The Vietnamese also struggle to understand the lyrics because they're so fast. Hip hop gives the artist the freedom to talk about ideas, life and people. But this freedom should have limits so as to not ruin the art,"said Bao.

Quoc Anh agrees.

"Many suppose that rap and hip-hop is just a form of rebellion or even a mistake," he said. "But rap or hip-hop is only bad when the content is. Rap can help young people to have a voice and be more confident."

Quoc Anh has been rapping for four years in the hope of bringing the genre to a wider, more appreciative audience.

The secret to success, many say, is to adapt rap and make elements of it fit in with the Vietnamese way of life. With his latest track, Quoc Anh has done this. Whether others continue the trend remains to be seen.

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