Thursday, 26 November 2015

Good day Vietnam!

At last, in Vietnam. At last I am coming, not as a visitor, but as an artist, a musician who will do something there. I nearly thought that this project with Arabesque would never see the light. I had not heard from them for weeks. Yes, they were busy performing, anh Lộc was in Canada with Tuấn Anh to prepare for the new show by le Cirque du Soleil… I myself was busy composing the music for the film… As usual, that is in my life, things would only unfold at the very last minute. One week before by supposed departure, Anh Lộc called me to make sure about my dates – from the last week of November until the first days of January: five weeks, barely enough time to actually be ready for what I had been envisioning in my head. One motto that has come to me more and more frequently these past years: no need for control, as it is not necessary to plan anything too accurately, as things will come and structure themselves perfectly at the given time.

I had just set foot on the Vietnamese ground that I was called for a meeting two hours later with Trân, who is the Arabesque company manager. We met in front of the house where I was to spend the coming 5 weeks – a small windowless room in an unkempt, messy flat. The good point: it was located right in the center, near the Bến Thành market. “I hope you will not hate us for the room” Tran wrote to me. I was ready for any situation. The room, though dark, offered the basics: a bed. A very large bed. There were two windows opening on nothing but the next door motorbike garage. I was to share with five other people. So much for privacy and intimate time… The alley which led to the house was very charming, a remain of old Saigon, in the midst of all the aggressive renovations that were currently going on all around, a line up of pocket sized houses with their façade painted in this typical faded light green and wooden shutters. How much longer would that last? A year at most perhaps… A big sign board with a drawing of a modern building which was to replace the old houses was hanging on top of the entrance. Like so many other Asian cities, Saigon is following the same path which will turn it into another faceless metropolis. Bland modern buildings and shopping malls.

Trân took me to a restaurant located behind the opera house. My Tau, it was called. I / You.

We discussed the plan for the coming weeks. What I had in mind. I had sent them some sketches of ideas, however, I think my vision will materialise as we go.

The owner of My Tau was a elderly woman from Huế. I had told Tran I would need a speaker from Huế for the Hàn Mặc Tử spoken words segment – an endangered species we are... Would that woman suit my idea? No. In fact she had been in Saigon for too long and could barely speak with the Huế dialect. “I’ve been in Saigon for too long!” she admitted. Nevertheless the food was delicious. My first genuine Vietnamese meal in months!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Protège moi

“I will come to your place, write the lyrics and record the vocals, but I don’t want the production company to use my name for the promotion of their film. I like the idea of being anonymous.” Those were A. ‘s words. She had postponed our session a few times, busy as she was helping for a music festival and also getting back on her feet after a couple of months not being herself because of some newly discovered disease which compelled her to stay in without much energy to do anything. I thought it was hepatitis A but it was more serious.
At twenty to midnight she was there. I was dead tired already, but happy to finally do this song with her. The instrumental track was ready. I had recorded the strings a few days before and it really sounded good. Jay of course had heard it and liked it. I was curious to hear the final result with the singing.
A. had only scribbled down ideas for the lyrics. The following hour was spent matching words and melody. At past one in the morning, we attempted to record the vocals. “Let’s print a first draft. If there is anything that requires some changes, I will do that at my studio” she told me. Indeed, my equipment was very basic: a simple but very efficient ZOOM recorder. I had to hand-hold it. No frills. That allows me lots of freedom as I can go anywhere and record what I want before bringing it back home and editing it on my computer. A. did a few takes until the melody came out of her mouth effortlessly. 
Finally the song was taking life. I had nearly given up. When I learned that A. was sick, I searched for another singer, she introduced me to one, Zoe, whose music I already was acquainted with and appreciated. We exchanged a few emails, she agreed to do it, seemed to be quite happy to join the project, I got in touch with her record company, then nothing. The record company eventually wrote to me that Zoe was busy preparing for an upcoming tour and deeply regretted that the collaboration could not work out. I didn’t know what to believe. I had received many of those letters, which are written in a positive and polite way to disguise the blow of a negative response. When A. heard about it, she made time to come and help me. It was perfect for she was the one I originally wanted for the song. Jay was very excited to know she would be the vocalist. As A. retired from show business – at least from the name she was known as, she wished to remain anonymous. She gave me some fake names that I could use. I thought that coming up with a real alias would be better. What about AXA? - An x A. ? She loved the idea. The song bears a name in French: Protège moi -  I felt that strange impulse to have those two French words in the chorus. A. liked it.
New songs will certainly come later next year. I had written lots of music that has not been used, and will make excellent material for new songs. At 3am we were done with the recording. A. went home to work on something she had to finish before the morning. When will she stop? I felt so grateful to her generosity and her love.
I was so exhausted myself, I decided to do the editing after a few hours of sleep. 
Writing this soundtrack has been a challenge, two weeks ago, I honestly believed I would never manage to come up with any satisfactory result. But as some master said, it all come as a reflection of what is going on inside. Let go of your ego, forget the old woes and forge the path you want to walk on. Once I had decided to take matters in hand and defend my point of view, things became clear and I understood what I had to do.
This year has been quite a testing one for me.

Soon I will be able to focus on the next project: the Open Space Project in Saigon.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


Morning time. Just read a message from Simon: “Did you hear about the attack in Paris? They fired at people in front of Le Cambodge!” I immediately checked the news online. Le Monde, Libération, all the major newspapers were headlining it: several gun attacks in the city, mostly in the district where I used to live, between Bastille and République. Le Cambodge was our canteen, just five minutes away from my former flat on the Canal Saint-Martin. More than one hundred victims in a deadly firegun attack at the Bataclan, a concert venue which was also one of my favourite. Voiceless and speechless. The whole day was spent checking whether everybody was safe and sound. Felt even more devastated when learning about deadly attacks in Yemen and Beirut the same day. 

Friends kept sending me message to make sure everything was right. On Facebook a list was created to let people know who was alive and fine. I couldn't repress tears. 

Did they choose November 13th for a particular reason? What’s behind the big web?   

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Nothing comes to light

I just talked with my father on the phone. My mother has had a cataract operation yesterday. The doctor said it was a common operation nowadays, however, my mother waited too long, which made the task a little more intricate. But he was confident.
I received a few words yesterday evening that everything went well.
If things could stay simple… No. My father was reading the doctors instruction and found out to his disarray that my mother had taken the bandage off her eye, thus causing further complication. She may have gone up to the bathroom and 'discovered' the bandage on her eye and took it off.
He immediately called a taxi and rushed her back to the hospital. The eye had got infected. The doctor was furious, yet understood the situation: my mother was also suffering from the Alzheimer disease. Certainly she forgot that she had just come back from the hospital where she had the operation and wondered why she had this bandage on her eye. Were we in
Vietnam, it would be easy to have a relative come and stay to watch over my mother. But my father is alone and cannot possibly take care of everything by himself. I admire his courage and perseverance, knowing that my mother’s condition is bound to get worse with time. 
The thought is distressing. I felt so powerless, living far away from them.