Layers of sound, art and story interwoven in Arrival Cities: Hanoi
Words and photos by Chris Humphrey ●
“We’re trying to tell stories,” says Jörgen Dahlqvist, trying to explain Arrival Cities simply, a project which is in fact remarkably multi-layered. Just one of many projects set up by The Six Tones – Swedish-Vietnamese musicians and artists – Arrival Cities: Hanoi is being performed in Hanoi this weekend. Named after the book by Doug Saunders of the same name, Arrival Cities tells the stories of people who migrate to the big cities, in this case Hanoi. The performance will meld together a live instrumental set, interview and video art focusing on the story of Nam, who moved to Hanoi as a young boy and tried to find work as an actor.
The Six Tones themselves are a group of four – Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, Ngô Trà My, Henrik Frisk and Stefan Östersjö – whose music blends traditional Vietnamese and contemporary Western styles. They have collaborated with many different artists for their various projects, including Kim Ngọc, Trí Minh, Vũ Nhật Tân and Lê Phổ, amongst many others and their pieces span performance art, sound art, installation, video art and poetry. Dahlqvist is one of their regular collaborators, working in the role of director and video artist, creating an integral part of their performance.
“We want to get away from the western gaze”, Dahlqvist says, as he and the band head down the narrow alleys to meet two street vendors. Nguyễn Thanh Thủy, who plays đàn tranh in the band, first interviews Hiep, a 40-year-old street vendor from Ba Vi. Whilst carving pineapples, Hiep tells Thủy that she’s been working in Hanoi since 1999, and lives under Long Bien Bridge. Although she’s been here for many years, she mainly knows people from her own village, and essentially still feels like an outsider. 29-year-old vendor Hue, from the same village as Hiep, tells us about having to make deals with the local police to be allowed to work; although that doesn’t guarantee that they won’t be moved on. Her sister, Mai, wants to work in a supermarket, so Hue deliberately sells near large stores in the hope that she will learn more about working for them.
We relocate to a nearby cafe to discuss the interviews and The Six Tones’ projects in more detail. So are they trying to help the street vendors? What is the aim? Stefan Östersjö, a classically trained guitarist who plays đan ty ba in the band, is noncommittal. “It’s maybe a bit optimistic to say we’d really be able to help them, “ he said, “but we’re giving them a voice, which is quite important.” The interviews with the street vendors are part of a project they’re working on that hopefully will be performed with a live orchestra sometime at the end of 2016.
Their projects are all about migration, in many different ways. For starters, Stefan and Jörgen often travel to Vietnam, and Thủy now lives in Sweden. Kent Olofsson, who composes music for the band, is a Western composer. So the project itself is a kind of cultural migration. To add to the many layers of their already multi layered project Stefan pulls out his microphone and records me, an immigrant, interviewing Thủy about her interviews with the street vendors. All of these recordings they make, along with found sounds from the city, are woven into their performances, giving the music a narrative of its own.
Interview over The Six Tones continue with their itinerary for the day, collecting sounds and telling stories.
The Six Tones will be performing Arrival Cities: Hanoi at the Tuong Theatre on 4th and 5th of April. Tickets are free and can be collected from the Goethe Institute.