‘Beautiful’, ‘emotional’, ‘captivating’, and ‘spiritual encouragement’ are some of the words people have used to express their feelings after watching a music video called “Sai Gon thuong” (Love Sai Gon).
A quiet Ho Chi Minh City during social distancing. (Photo: Le Sa Long)
The song, which has received more than 200,000 views on social media, was performed by American Kyo York, who came to Vietnam in 2009 to teach English and ended up becoming a popular singer in Vietnam. He considers Ho Chi Minh City his second home.
“Love Sai Gon
Where children are longing for school
Love Sai Gon
Where many are longing for home.”
Those are the first lines from “Sai Gon thuong”, which Kyo York sang with all his heart. During the current outbreak of COVID-19 in HCM City or Sai Gon as its former name, Kyo’s neighborhood is in the high-risk area, so he’s homebound. Having witnessed the serious complications of the pandemic in his second homeland, he wanted to use his voice to soothe people’s souls and boost their spirit to fight COVID-19.
“I’ve witnessed people lose their loved ones here in Vietnam and America. My father was infected with COVID-19 in 2020. I felt it, I know what it’s like to have somebody you love be infected with COVID-19. As a musician, I really believe in the power of music, and I think that was the energy that I manifested to create this song to give back to the community, so they can feel some warmth in their souls”, he said.
Written by songwriter Khuc Dao Minh, “Sai Gon thuong” has an influence of Southern Vietnamese folk music, which is not easy to pull off even for some Vietnamese singers. It took Kyo roughly two weeks to prepare to record the song, helped by colleagues and his previous experience with different types of Vietnamese folk music.
“I’ve been very fortunate to sing all different styles of Vietnamese music, like Quan ho Bac Ninh, dan ca Nam Bo, and so many other types of traditional music. I think it’s so amazing for a country that is so small and yet so rich in musical cultures. When I initially heard this song, I was like ‘I’m gonna screw this up!’, but then I chose to just dive in and do the best that I can to sing the song”, Kyo confided.
After the practice came the recording. Because of social distancing, Kyo couldn’t record the song or film the music video in a studio, so he did it at home using his smartphone! He would start recording after 6pm when the city turned really quiet and there was not too much background noise. He managed to set up corners of his house to do the video recording and get the lighting right to record himself.
The American singer got some help from his sound engineer, his backing vocalist, the video editors, and particularly painter Le Sa Long, who agreed to let the video feature his collection of works about HCM City during the current social distancing period. Displayed during Kyo’s music video are 40 paintings of moments – some heart-breaking, some heart-warming – such as hundreds of people on motorbikes leaving the city for their home village, young children on their way to quarantine camps, rice ATMs, and zero-cent takeaway food stalls.
Long even spent one night painting a portrait of Kyo, which appears in the final shot of the video as a thank-you to the singer. “I’ve always considered Kyo a foreign singer with a Vietnamese heart, so I was overjoyed when he asked if he could feature my artwork in his music video," Long said.
"It’s a beautiful combination: the song’s folk-pop melody, Kyo’s soft, emotional voice, and pictures showing what a hard time our dear HCM City is going through. The music video touched my heart deeply”, Long noted.
Kyo said he cried while recording the song. The emotional and positive feedback from listeners and viewers makes him feel his effort has really paid off. He shared “It’s a really challenging series of events to get the final product. I think that makes the product all that more valuable in my eyes. I’ve lived here for nine years and for me, this place is very personal. I think it’s so important at this point in time to take the word ‘thuong’ (love) in ‘Sai Gon thuong’ seriously. Love each other, love yourself, take care of yourself and your family.”
“Sai Gon thuong” was created under the auspices of a foundation with the same name operated by the Tourism-Vietnam Studies Faculty of Nguyen Tat Thanh University to support disadvantaged students during and after COVID-19. Kyo hoped that money raised by the song will help students realize their dreams, and that the song will continue to help HCM City recover and grow after the pandemic./.