Playing a different tune

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Englishman plugs Hanoi into international indie music

  Dan Dockery (R), one of the founders of the CAMA annual rock festival in Hanoi, poses with his friends in front of CAMA ATK, a venue which aims to host smaller, regular musical events for Vietnamese and expat audiences in the capital.

Dan Dockery has big plans to beef up Hanoi's music scene.

One of them is a month-long music festival, or at least a two or three-day festival like other major musical events worldwide.

Having initiated, with three expatriate friends, an annual rock festival in the capital city in the face of some tough odds, he knows how difficult it is going to be to realize his hopes.

But he is in it for the long haul. A very long haul.

"It might be 85 years from now. I'm sure I will be in Vietnam for a hundred years," he jokes.

Given the passion and commitment the Englishman and his friends have shown so far, music fans can afford some optimism that Dockery might not have to wait that long.

CAMA, the annual rock festival in Hanoi that Dockery and his friends founded, has become one of the most anticipated music events in Vietnam for local and expat audiences alike, as it gathers both local and international artists in many different genres of music.

The success has come after numerous obstacles in the beginning, and there still are many to be dealt with, says Dockery.

But it has been well worth the effort because "there's nothing better than to listen to live music," Dockery says, in fluent Vietnamese after having stayed in Hanoi for 15 years.

CAMA was created to support young artists in Vietnam and to open the ears of local audiences, especially young people, to different kinds of music and artists from different countries.

The latest edition, held in June, brought together five international and four local acts at an all-day outdoor event at the American Club on Hai Ba Trung Street.

Dockery recalled that when he first arrived in Hanoi, "it was hard to find a place to enjoy music."

Vietnam had few live music venues, many genres were strange to local people and foreign performers rarely came here.

He told Saigon Tiep Thi that in London, when he was born, people had dozens of options for live music. Even if the bands were not so famous; they still played pretty well.

He started organizing small musical events in 1998 and 1999, and these culminated in CAMA - Club for Art and Music Appreciation - in 2005.

Dockery set this up along with friends from the US, Australia and New Zealand. His friends are also long-standing expats in Vietnam who share the love of music.

The founders all have other jobs, so it was relatively easy for them to stick to the original plan that CAMA would not be about making money, but about pursuing their passion.

Dockery owns the Highway4 restaurant chain that he opened with a friend in 2000, while the other CAMA founders are a lawyer, a graphic designer and a development professional who works for an NGO.

The first days of the club were hard, with initial festivals attracting a small number of performers, mostly local artists.

It was not easy to invite international artists, but Dockery kept introducing the club to various artists online, and slowly, they began responding, some even offering to come at their own expense.

Invitations were not sent to famous artists but to the underdogs more independent, young and upcoming artists were sought, as they suited the club's purpose of bringing new musical experiences to the audience.

Besides, Vietnamese bands would not feel overwhelmed on stage as they performed together.

Around 80 artists and bands have performed at CAMA festivals since their inception, including Electric Eel Shock, Akil the MC (Jurassic 5), Ball Park Music, Charly B, Commens, Dengue Fever, DJ Park, Girl Talk, Goo, Regurgitator, Ratatat, Tha Trickaz, The Emergency, The Okamoto's, Traks Boyz, Jonty Skrufff and Mikee Dee.

They came from the US, Japan, France, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, the UK, the Philippines, Thailand and China.

So CAMA has achieved its major goal bringing world music to Vietnam, and opening chances for Vietnamese artists who want to cooperate with their foreign counterparts or perform overseas, Dockery says.

He is discussing with people from several foreign music festivals, especially those in Singapore and Malaysia, to persuade them to invite Vietnamese bands over.

But he says the club has not been quite successful in its second goal making local audiences open to new kinds of music.

A majority of the audience at the CAMA festival 2010 were expats. Only 40 percent of the audience were Vietnamese and this has not changed much since.

Dockery feels the Vietnamese audience have "framed" themselves for a long time within several music genres and several familiar artists that they are fond of.

"But music is vast and keeps changing. I just want to tell them to come and listen, and they will feel excited by new things."

He says Vietnamese youth have very good access to international culture through the Internet, but they are still "rather conservative."

"Once a young person in Hanoi asked me who would be performing at the next CAMA, I listed some name and he said he knew no one so he might not come.

"I asked him who he wanted the festival to have, and he almost made me pass out. He wanted Metallica, U2 and Linkin Park," Dockery told Saigon Tiep Thi.

But he is not disheartened and continues to work hard to bring new and different music into Vietnam. Apart from the annual CAMA festival, he organizes various programs, the most recent one being a concert by leading Japanese rapper COMA-CHI in August.

He and other organizers have opened CAMA ATK, at 73A Mai Hac De Street in Hanoi to hold regular, small events for about 100 people.

Tickets to such individual concerts cost around VND50,000 (US$2.4) and are free for students. Entrance to the CAMA festival costs VND400,000 and around half for students. All profits from the festival last year were donated to Flora and Fauna International.

Other pursuits

Given his background in the hospitality industry, Dockery has also promoted tourism in the country. He is one of the founders of the Minsk Club in Hanoi. He also opened a firm offering motorbike tours and worked as a tour guide for it.

He has traveled to many places in Vietnam, and his favorite spots are in the northern highlands.

Dockery has come a long way since he arrived in Hanoi 15 year ago, when he was 22, planning to be a teacher.

He did not have a long-term plan to stay then, but has no plan to leave now.

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