• Denholm Hewlett

[Music/Culture] Saigon Rock & Soul: Music of the Vietnam War (1968-1974)

The story behind a collection of Vietnamese acid-rock songs that was miraculously unearthed and rescued from obscurity.


After taking an inspiring trip to Vietnam back in 2010, I became obsessed with tracking down obscure south-east asian records from bygone eras. The compilation "Saigon Rock & Soul" was my most important discovery and it gave me a rare insight into a rich and remarkable time in Vietnam's musical history that, for the most part, has been forgotten.


The scope of Vietnam's electrifying music scene during the 60's and 70's was among the heaviest and most eclectic in all of South Eastern Asia. All these songs were recorded in makeshift studios and US army facilities while the Vietnam war ravaged the country. The songs in this collection speak of war, love and the effects of war on love - Teenage psychedelic acid-rock at its finest, prompted by the arrival of the electric guitar on the streets of Saigon and the influence of western culture and music brought by the American GI's.


~ Check out this sampler mix of Saigon Rock & Soul and keep reading ~


It was March of 1965 when the United States decided to intervene and transform the 10 years of escalating civil conflict in Vietnam into a full-blown American war zone. The devastating violence in the North was already in full swing when America's napalm bomb attacks began decimating the country and it's people. The first battalions of young American combat troops had been deployed and stationed indefinitely on the streets and shores of Saigon, bringing with them the sounds of western rock & roll and psychedelic folk music, which soon dominated the radio waves of Southern Vietnam.


All of the nightclubs and dance halls in Saigon were buzzing with the electrifying foreign sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Beatles, Blind Faith, Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones, this inspired a whole generation of young, enthusiastic Vietnamese rockers to establish their own daring and vibrant acid-rock scene. At the time, classical and popular Vietnamese music was most characterised by the wistful and melancholic sounds of French inspired chanson ballads, modern jazz, cabaret and swing styles.


For every 100 pulp ballads recorded, one psychedelic rock & soul track was birthed, inspired by the sounds of surf rock, beat & twist, soulful Motown radio hits and the undeniable funkadelic grooves of James Brown.



One of most beloved and popular rock groups to emerge at this time was CBC Band, a partridge family of pre-teen Vietnamese musicians who started earning money playing western rock and roll music for the US soldiers stationed in Saigon. CBC was fronted by Nam Loc and her brother, Tung Linh, one of the most talented guitar players in Vietnam at the time. CBC also featured Bich Loan as a singer and Tung Van as the drummer. The group headlined Vietnam's first international music festival at Saigon Zoo in 1971.


This group of long-haired hippies kids had an unlikely fan base, battle-weary US soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, who were amazed that such young kids could play such electrifying renditions of western rock and roll music.


CBC Band, live at Saigon Zoo, 1971

CBC Band toured the Saigon nightclub circuit extensively and became staples at music halls like the "CBC Club". They were soon hired to perform at US army base halls, averaging six to seven nights a week, and became one of the most revered rock groups in Southern Vietnam, being hailed as "the best band in the orient" and "The Beatles of Vietnam". The US soldiers would give the band members cassette tape's of new western music for them to memorise and perform at their upcoming shows.



The CBC Band secretly escaped their war-torn country at the peak of their fame, before the fall of Saigon in '75, and became known as the "band on the run". They applied for political asylum in Australia but were rejected, so they travelled between Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tibet and India before finally settling in a refugee community in Houston, Texas, in 1976, eventually establishing their own nightclub "The Mini Club", where they still perform today. The only studio recordings made by CBC Band feature on this album, "The Greatest Love" and "Hearts & Tears", check the video below!


~ This live performance of CBC's "Heart & Tears" was the band's guest appearance for the Saigon comedy film "Ngoui co Don" (1971) ~



~ This second video is CBC performing an anti war song while the band were refugees in Bombay, India, recorded in 1975 ~



Many of the other bands that were formed during this time never even stepped inside a recording studio, they instead performed relentlessly at the hottest venues in town. Many of the young American troops formed close bonds with the musicians and would bring new recordings and musical equipment to their pals in Saigon after returning from leaves of absence.


The artists on this Saigon collection were crooners and traditional singers who recorded the odd rock, pop and dance track, including Elvis Phuong, Carol Kim, Hung Cuong, Mai Lei Huyen, Thanh Mai, Le Thu and Mai Lei Huyen. Among the most legendary of these artists was Giao Linh, known as the "empresses of sorrow" for her melancholic singing style.


When Saigon finally fell to the Viet Cong fighters in '75, all popular western musical influences and cultural artefacts were immediately outlawed and banished. Citizens were forced to cut off their long hippie hair styles and quickly destroy all of their modern rock music, documents, photographs and books out of fear of being arrested and sent to "reform camps". This is why so much of the recorded music from that era was completely lost.



SAIGON ROCK & SOUL is a goldmine album of material for every retro music enthusiasts searching for the eclectic low-fi sounds of Vietnamese psychedelic rock, soul, folk, garage and funk fusions. The 17-track, 70 minute compilation was released on Sublime Frequencies Records in 2010 and features tracks that were once thought to be destroyed or lost forever.


We hope you fall in love with this incredible era of music the same way we did, an example of how music can create peace in the darkest of times.

~ Check out this collection of gems from SAIGON ROCK & SOUL ~


~ Psychic Garden

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