It’s not really news that I grew up listening and watching Vietnamese music, that’s just how it was in our house. Vietnamese music has been the one thing that still makes me feel connected to my roots, culture, heritage, despite being born in Canada. My love of pop music stemmed from my love of Vietnamese pop, which is not to say that I don’t like some of the more adult contemporary stuff, it’s just that I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it until later in life. One of the things that I did always love growing up were the French songs that got translated into Vietnamese. There were songs in other languages that got translated into Vietnamese, but French songs, especially the older ones, just have a really special quality to them.
So listening to these Vietnamese/French songs growing up and pretty much knowing those songs just as that, embedded in my brain since I was a kid, has amusingly led to a kind of music rediscovery nowadays. Much like watching an old movie or TV show and recognizing a now-famous actor, I’ve stumbled upon a few songs in English that I once only knew in Vietnamese or French (or both).
Megan Hilty recently released a new album called Live at the Cafe Carlyle. On it, Hilty performs a collection of standards, Broadway tunes, songs from Smash, and such. One particular song caught me by surprise when I heard it, and that was “Autumn Leaves.” As soon as Megan sang the first couple of words, I instantly recognized it as a Vietnamese song called “La Thu Vang” Honestly, I knew that song was a translated French song, but all my life, I have only ever heard it in Vietnamese and famously sung by Khanh Ha. It felt so different and weird hearing it in English, but I also became instanly obsessed with it, mainly due to the fact that it’s Megan, though it really is just such a beautiful song.
A couple of years ago, there was a movie that came out called Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac. The movie itself was just okay for me, but I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack. The movie and soundtrack featured a song performed by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands called “Five Hundred Miles.” I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking “This sounds really familiar…” and me being me, it annoyed the hell out of me trying to figure out where I had heard it. I knew I had heard Vietnamese singer Thanh Lan sing it before, but it was me digging through my music library until I found it (it gets hard when all the French medleys are labelled as that, just different artists lol). But I found it, and it was just funny because again, all my life I only knew it in French, even though “Five Hundred Miles” is the original song that spurred multiple translations, including the French version entitled “Et j’entends siffler le train”