Akman, Haci. (Ed.) 2014. Negotiating Identity in Scandinavia. Women, Migration and the Diaspora. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books. 

Cunningham, Stuart, and Tina Nguyen, 1999. Popular Media of the Vietnamese Diaspora. Javnost - The Public, 6(1), 71–92. 

Gibbs, Jason. 2003. The West’s Songs, Our Songs: The Introduction and Adaptation of Western Popular Song in Vietnam before 1940. Asian Music, 35(1), 57–83.

Henry, Eric. 2005. Tân Nhạc: Notes Toward a Social History of Vietnamese Music in the Twentieth Century. Michigan Quarterly Review, 44(1), 135-147.

Lutz, Helma. 2010. Gender in the Migratory Process, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(10), 1647-1663. 

Nguyễn, Thanh-Thủy. 2019. The Choreography of Gender in Traditional Vietnamese Music. (Doctoral Studies and Research in the Fine and Performing Arts). Malmö: Malmö Academy of Music, Lund University.

Reyes, Adelaida. 1999. Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Taylor, Philip. 2001. Fragments of the Present: Searching for Modernity in Vietnam’s South. ASAA Southeast Asia Publications Series: Australia.

UNHCR. 1975. Henning Becker v. Denmark. Refworld3 October 1975. Retrieved from,COECOMMHR,3ae6b7058.html 

Valverde, Kieu-Linh Caroline. 2003. Making Vietnamese Music Transnational: Sounds of Home, Resistance and Change. Amerasia Journal, 29(1), 29-49.

Although the clash between the “revolutionary” culture of the north—between the anti-colonialist songs promoted as red music by the northern government on the one hand and what has come to be called yellow music of the south—was strong during the war, the contrasting rule systems were further enhanced in the postwar period. In a series of publications, the official definition of yellow music was established. In the very first of these, the composer/researcher Tô Vũ defined yellow music as a cultural expression, the overall effect of which was “to evoke in hapless listeners a gloomy, embittered, impotent and cynical mood towards life, an attitude negating youth’s desire to be cheerful, a sensation of being drowned in loneliness in a withered and desolate world” (Tô Vũ cited in Taylor, 2001, p. 43).

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam war, many sentimental pop songs were banned by the Vietnamese communist party, labelling them as yellow music. However, the ban failed to achieve its aims since the music continued to be secretly performed and listened to within the country, but most of all, refugees from Vietnam since then brought this music with them and created a successful overseas Vietnamese music industry, first in France and in the US, but later also reaching communities of Vietnamese immigrants all around the world. Since Đổi Mớithe economic reforms initiated in Vietnam in 1986, and the gradual opening up of the country, many musicians have returned for tours of Vietnam, bringing the previously banned music to even larger audiences.3 

Video essay 2 and 3 focus on an analysis of the process of creating two recordings, one of them also featured in the first video essay, and the song Yêu Một Mình9 by The Six Tones created with the singer Lâm Mỹ Lệ and the turntablist and improviser Matt Wright.10 Two overarching artistic approaches are identified: Most typically, in order to overrule the tonal structures which are characteristic of nhạc vàng songs, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy introduced the idea of returning to the modal and heterophonic structuring principles of traditional Vietnamese music, with particular attention to the southern genre of Nhạc Tài Tử11 and using the Ai-Oán12 mode in the first example of this is the version of Còn Thương Rau Đắng Mọc Sau Hè for đàn tranh solo. But the principle of reducing each song to a melodic framework, within which traditional modal principles for improvisation can be applied, was used in most pieces created by the group. However, when such a structure had been established, other approaches to improvisation within this framework were also introduced, drawing on the intercultural and experimental practice of The Six Tones. These video essays seek an understanding of how music may connect the immigrant with their country of origin, but it also proposes that intercultural music may constitute a means for bridging the divide between the immigrant and the new home culture. 

Lâm Mỹ Lệ at the Inter Arts Center Studio, Malmö, Sweden.

Photo: Ludvig Östersjö

Video essay 1 contains footage from zoom interviews with thirteen Vietnamese women living in diaspora conducted in spring 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic. It features an experimental recording of the song Phôi Pha8 by The Six Tones with the singer Ngô Hồng Gấm and a solo đàn tranh version by Nguyễn Thanh Thủy of the song Còn Thương Rau Đắng Mọc Sau Hè.7 


In this video essay we encounter first and second generation women of both voluntary and forced immigrants from Vietnam. They tell stories of their experience of migration and the role of music in their lives, as phrased by the composer Anna Linh Nguyễn Berg “I am not 100% Norwegian even though I experience myself also as 100% Norwegian...because I grew up here and was born here, right? And sometimes that experience can be pretty lonely actually” (Personal communication, 2021). The video is structured on a thematic analysis of the interviews, generating a three-part narrative: The role of music in the lives of these women; their journeys from Vietnam; and of identity formation in diaspora. The video essay seeks to give voice to a group of immigrants who live in a liminal space between Vietnamese and European identity, and indeed also, rules and socially constructed value systems. 



This exposition seeks to identify artistic strategies and challenges in intercultural experimentation with Vietnamese music traditions. It builds on the author’s experience as a professional đàn tranh player on the Vietnamese traditional music scene, as well as her long-term collaboration with performers and composers with the Vietnamese/Swedish group The Six Tones1 as a platform. Through two video essays, the exposition presents artistic process while seeking an understanding of the artistic strategies developed by the participating artists, and in which ways these methods have related to the rule systems of traditional and popular music in Vietnam. 

The artistic research which the exposition explores has been carried out as part of the postdoctoral artistic research project “Music and Identity in Diaspora: novel perspectives on female Vietnamese immigrants in Scandinavia”.2 The purpose of the project is to determine how music contributes to identity formation among Vietnamese immigrants, with a particular focus on the role of music in confirming or subverting traditional gender roles. The aims of the project are (a) to provide a more robust understanding of how music contributes to identity and social cohesion in immigrant communities, (b) to identify patterns of gendered behaviour in immigrant communities across generations, and (c) to develop effective strategies—including experimental music practices and other artistic expressions—that promote reduction of social inequalities among immigrant communities. 

Several important studies have been made of the role of music among Vietnamese immigrants (Cunningham & Nguyen, 1999; Reyes, 1999), but not specifically in Scandinavia. Cunningham & Nguyen (1999), in a study of the role of music and media in the formation of cultural identity among Vietnamese immigrants in Australia, note “the felt need to maintain pre-revolutionary Vietnamese heritage and traditions; find a negotiated place within a more mainstreamed culture; or engage in the formation of distinct hybrid identities around the appropriation of dominant Western popular cultural forms” (p. 77). The present project contributes new knowledge to the study of music and migration, and to the study of identity formation in diasporic contexts, by studying Vietnamese immigrant communities in Scandinavia from a gender perspective. 

Stefan Östersjö, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy and Lâm Mỹ Lệ.

Inter Arts Center Studio, Malmö, Sweden.

Photo: Ludvig Östersjö


During spring 2021 and spring 2022, Nguyễn Thanh Thủy conducted interviews with Vietnamese women living in Scandinavia, both online (during the Covid-19 pandemic), and later in their homes and in studio. They all expressed that they very often listen to music, and many of them like singing themselves. The general tendency among all the informants is that the music they usually listen to or to sing is nhạc vàng (yellow music)a form of Vietnamese popular music. Several studies have pointed to the central role of nhạc vàng among overseas Vietnamese (Reyes, 1999; Valverde, 2003) and it seems that the tendency is the same in Scandinavia.

The history of this music is immediately connected to the impact of colonisation. As a result of the hybrid culture in colonial Vietnam, popular songs with influence from western music emerged in the late nineteenth century, first under the influence from French music, and later during the 1960s and 1970s also from American music (Gibbs, 2003; Henry, 2005). The use of the term yellow music may have origins in China, where campaigns against bourgeois music cultures used the term in the early 1950s.


Reyes (1999) attributes the popularity of nhạc vàng songs in the exiled Vietnamese community to a wish to preserve a culture that was shattered to pieces in the post 1975 diaspora, and further, that the continued performance of this music was perceived as an act of resistance. Valverde (2003) argues that this strong political motivation also limited exiled Vietnamese artists from creating something new, and that the strife for preservation was becoming a “culture in a bubble” (p. 32). While returning to the pre-1975 repertoire, and also exploring the characteristic style of the record production, the project has sought ways to challenge the rule systems of this music, and break this cultural bubble, with the aim of reviving this cultural heritage, and also seeking to fill it with new meaning for new generations of overseas Vietnamese.


This exposition comprises three video essays, which engage with these aims in different ways. These video essays are built on analysis of the process of creating three recordings, as well as of the interviews with female immigrants, and also on documentation of the work of Nguyễn Thanh Thủy and her group The Six Tones. The videos provide accounts of how the group invited two Vietnamese singers, living in Australia and Denmark, Ngô Hồng Gấm4 and Lâm Mỹ Lệ,5 to record experimental versions of nhạc vàng songs.6 Two of the three songs were chosen by the two singers. The third song was first introduced to Nguyễn Thanh Thủy during an interview with Nguyễn Ngọc Diệp, a Vietnamese who lives in Sweden.



Henrik Frisk, Ngô Hồng Gấm and Ngô Trà My

Video essay 1

Video essay 3

Video essay 2