Saturday, September 27, 2014

What Is Kelvin Khoa Like?

I'm sure a lot of people want to know what is Ngoc Lan's husband like.  Well, all I can say is he is about the nicest guy you could possibly meet.  I had a chance to work with Kelvin Khoa on my album, "Ngay Em Di".  Here is an absolutely nice guy who loves his wife, and loved what he did for a living.  He remastered among my songs, "Lemon Tree" and a song recorded by Ngoc Hue, "Pho Xa".  He asked me to re-record a line on "Lemon Tree", telling me, "You did this song almost perfectly.  Chi Lan and I really enjoy it, except for the last line."  Now, how can I argue with someone like that?

I had no idea who he was when Ngoc Hue had introduced me to him.  I didn't attend Ngoc Lan's wedding.  Therefore, I didn't know who he was.  Small world, isn't it?  But when I found out who he was, I couldn't help but to ask him about Ngoc Lan.  I wanted to know how she was doing and if she remembered me.  And sure enough, his answer was yes, she did remember.  And the fact that her favorite song out of all the songs I had recorded on the "Ngay Em Di" CD made it even more special. 

On the day of her funeral, I went up to him and gave him a hug.  I said how much I loved Ngoc Lan.  He looked at me and said, "I know, em.  She loved you, too."  Just the thought of that still brings me to tears. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ngoc Lan as a Live Performer

Many have told me that Ngoc Lan as a live performer did not live up to her recordings.  I've only seen her perform once and that was in 1990 at the Long Beach Hoa Hau Ao Dai Beauty Pageant.  I thought she was marvelous.  She did have a soft voice.  But to me, that was part of Ngoc Lan's charm.  She didn't have to scream and yell to be heard.  She just sang. 

Perhaps many are referring to that performance in 1994 at the Anaheim Marriott.  I didn't attend that concert.  But from what I've heard, she was rather off.  One must understand that was during the time when her illness had already taken over.  I guess I was fortunate enough to have watched her perform back when she was still in top form.  How she sang "Viens M'embrasser" and "Nguoi Yeu Dau" just blew me away.  If only she could perform for all of us today.  That thought crosses my mind everyday. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ngoc Lan 8: Yeu Dau Khon Nguoi

Ngoc Lan was on a winning streak.  There wasn't anything she touched that didn't turn gold.   This collection of beautiful Vietnamese love songs is indeed a delicious affair.  Among my favorites were "Nang Thu", "Di Vang", "Tinh Yeu Den Trong Gia Tu", and "Quen Di Tinh Yeu Cu".  Ngoc Lan's voice had clearly matured in this recording project.  Never before had I heard Ngoc Lan sing with such passion.  This is definitely one of Ngoc Lan's best works ever.  I can listen to this album over and over again and never get tired of her beautiful voice.  This is an album that was indeed hard to critique, because honestly there is nothing to critique.  In many ways, this album reminds me of her work on one of her earlier albums that we all loved, "Nguoi Yeu Dau". 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ngoc Lan 7: Mai Mai Yeu Anh (Loving You Always)

Out of all the studio solo albums Ngoc Lan had recorded for May Productions, this was my personal favorite.  From beginning to end, all 12 of the tracks are delightful.  Ngoc Lan really does put her all each recording.  Everything from the selection of the songs to the enchanting translated Vietnamese lyrics for each song to the photograph on the album cover was nothing short of top notch.  Among the 12 tracks, my personal favorite were "Hay Den Voi Nhau" (Joe le Taxi), "Mua Tren Bien Vang", "Cho Nhau Tinh Yeu" (Tropique), and "Nguoi Yeu Dau Oi" (Je Suis D'Accord).  I was even impressed with her rendition of "Unchained Melody", a song I didn't think was really meant for her voice.  But Ngoc Lan surprisingly pulled it off. 

"Mua Tren Bien Vang" has been one of my all-time favorite songs recorded by Ngoc Lan.  Personally, I thought she should have selected this for the title track.  Other than that, the production of this solo studio album of Ngoc Lan was simply flawless. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Was Ngoc Lan Aware of Her Destiny?

I've watched this interview over and over again.  It's rather haunting, I might say.  When actor Tran Quang asked her what she would do if she were to one day get married and her husband would oppose to her continuing with her singing career, Ngoc Lan answers at first by saying that she would find a way to persuade him by begging him.  Then when Tran Quang continues by persistently asking her, what if he still would not allow her to continue singing?  Ngoc Lan's answer was that she would probably die if she couldn't continue to sing. 

This interview was featured on the Hollywood Night music video series produced by May Productions.  At the time of this interview was after when she discovered that she had been stricken with the incurable disease, multiple sclerosis, in 1992.  I wonder if this was her way of reaching out to her audience about her illness.   

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ngoc Lan 6: Khuc Tinh Cho Anh (Songs For You) Album

Ngoc Lan's 6th solo studio album released at the beginning of 1991 was really unlike the rest of her other albums.  For one thing, it wasn't really a solo recording project completely since the album had included two very long medleys, each recorded as duets with Trung Hanh.  And several of the songs selected for this album were songs Ngoc Lan had either partially recorded as part of a medley in the past for other music production labels, such as "Yeu Nhau Di" (Besame Mucho) and "Nhung Loi Me Hoac" (Paroles), or had previously recorded in its entirety, in the case of "Khi Co Chang" (Je Ne Suis Que de L'amour).  "Yeu Nhau Di" was probably the most enjoyable to listen to out of the three previously mentioned tracks on this album, while the other two were rather disappointing. 

I'm assuming since the music video that Ngoc Lan had made for the song, "Khi Co Chang", from her solo music videotape produced and released by May Productions a year ago, was so tremendous in popularity, her producers probably thought a reprisal track to be included on her next solo studio album would be a good idea.  Perhaps their calculations were right since many of her fans were just enthralled by how Ngoc Lan sounded with her cover of this Nicole Croisille classic,  /The Vietnamese audience really had fallen in love with that song after hearing Ngoc Lan's
recorded version on video and just couldn't get enough of it.  But for those fans of Ngoc Lan such as myself who are a bit fussier, with higher expectations for our idol, we found the album version of this song a total disappointment.  The track we heard in the music video, Ngoc Lan had sung beautifully in both French and Vietnamese lyrics.  The album version of "Khi Co Chang" had the exact same music arrangements, but was recorded only in Vietnamese.  For many of Ngoc Lan's fans who particularly like the way she sings in French, the album version left us with utter dissatisfaction.  But since Ngoc Lan had already made us fall in love with the song with that fantastic music video, it can be forgivable that she had left out recording the French lyrics on the album version of the song.  However, the laziness and careless production on the track, "Nhung Loi Me Hoac" (Paroles), in which Ngoc Lan recorded as a solo number, leaving out entirely the male-spoken lyrics really went beyond any chances for forgiveness.  It sounded ridiculous!  The lyrics to the song set up a dialogue, and it was meant to be performed as a duet.  Only the lyrics for the male vocalist are to be spoken only in the song, while the female vocalist sings the melody and chorus.  If the song is not performed as a duet, then there really would be no purpose.

This was the cover photo
 for the album originally
 released in 1990
  available only on cassette.
If I had to choose what would be my least favorite of Ngoc Lan's extensive body of work as a recording artist, I'd have to say that it would be her recordings of medleys, known as "lien khuc" in Vietnamese.  There was a good number of years when medleys were a popular fad in the Vietnamese music industry.  Every Vietnamese music label had to come out with these annoying, silly medley cassettes.  It was like a plague.  And almost every artist was jumping on the bandwagon to record these medleys.  I really couldn't figure out how medleys had become so popular.  When you think about it, medleys were nothing more than just a sctambling of a bunch of mismatched songs lumped together in one monotonous upbeat tempo.  I can see why the music producers liked medleys, because they were a lot cheaper to make.  But why did the Vietnamese audience like medleys so much? 

Ngoc Lan's 6th solo studio album, given how it was released in 1991 when medleys had reached its height in popularity among Vietnamese audiences, would also include two of these annoying medley tracks.  I must say, the medleys on this album were much more carefully produced   than most of the other medleys I've heard from Ngoc Lan on other music labels.  But they are still medleys.  Another sure sign that Ngoc Lan was trying very hard to keep up with the times with this album was her selection of "Lambada" as the first of many songs for one of the two medleys.  To keep up with a Latin dance craze that had recently swept the nation in America, including the Vietnamese community, Ngoc Lan sang "Lambada" in French to begin with the medley of songs.  I must admit that "Lambada" sung in French by Ngoc Lan sounds irresistibly charming.  To this day, this medley recorded by Ngoc Lan and Trung Hanh with only a small excerpt of "Lambada" sung in French lyrics at the beginning is one my biggest guilty pleasures.  The album did include two tracks in particular that captured the essence of Ngoc Lan's vocal talents; "Niem Dau Noi Nho" (Eternal Flame) and "Nguoi Yeu Oi Gia Tu" (Sayonara Means Goodbye).  The beautiful interpretations by Ngoc Lan on these two tracks are glorious enough to even cause the most disappointed fan to overlook most of this album which had been so poorly produced.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ngoc Lan and the Men She Loved

During the time of my friendship with Ngoc Lan, she was still a very young woman.  Beautiful, young, successful, classy, educated, but she had yet to have a ring worn on her finger.
As a single woman, who was also young and beautiful, it was not surprising that Ngoc Lan would have her fair share of suitors pining away for her heart.  But this young, beautiful single woman also had a very successful career, another quality that made Ngoc Lan an even better catch to potential suitors.  But there was one other quality she had that would send her over the edge, and that was....besides being a young, beautiful and successful single woman, she was also Ngoc Lan.

Duc Huy and Ngoc Lan
Like she had explained to me, being who she was, and having such tremendous fame and success, many men found her to be intimidating.  Please keep in mind that I didn't write this post with any intention of dishing out any private details about her personal life.  But I did get to meet a nice man by the name of Thanh Lam, a famous saxophone player in the Vietnamese community, who was then her boyfriend.  He was very charming, as well as good looking.  Together, I thought they were an attractive and classy couple.  But Ngoc Lan was extremely busy with her career, as he equally was with his. However their relationship ended, that is between them.  Unlike many other females, Ngoc Lan never was the type to be talking endlessly on the telephone or writing notes to her boyfriend. I never once heard of any story from other singers of Ngoc Lan ever causing any public scene fighting with a boyfriend.  That was not Ngoc Lan's style.  She was much more mature and always carried herself like a lady.

Ngoc Lan and Duy Quang on their
last duet album together.

Ngoc Lan and Duy Quang
recorded some of the most
successful duet albums in the
overseas Vietnamese music industry
throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Ngoc Lan and Duy Quang paired up
for the second time on a duet
album that had been produced
and released in 1990 by Dream Musical

When someone looks the way Ngoc Lan did, it is expected that members of the opposite sex will tend to take notice quite often.  I saw this happen quite a few times whenever I had gone places with her.  Now, as far as the places that we went to where we were surrounded by Vietnamese people everywhere, I really can't say that Ngoc Lan would have men cluster to her trying to ask her out on a date.  Afterall, she was Ngoc Lan.  I'm certain that many Vietnamese men wanted to, but this was Ngoc Lan we're talking about here.  Her fame in addition to her beauty, although were attractive qualities, simply intimidated a lot of Vietnamese men.

Ngoc Lan and Tuan Ngoc

Tuan Anh and Ngoc Lan -
What is there to say except that
the Vietnamese rumor mills
can be quite creative at times?

Trinh Nam Son and Ngoc Lan at a live performance.

I do remember one particular occasion when she and I had gone to Neiman Marcus so she could try on this dress she had recently purchased there and had sent back for alterations.  While she waited for the sales clerk to return from the stock room with the dress after the completed alterations, this handsome Caucasian man who was also a patron at the department store obviously was deeply enchanted by her beauty.  As he struck up a conversation by saying hello to her, followed by "You are very beautiful."  I was amazed at how she handled it.  Up until then, I had only seen how most other Vietnamese girls usually responded in similar situations.  It was either one of two ways, both of which I don't particularly care for.  The first way is really annoying.  For some reason, a lot of Vietnamese girls tend to think that it is cute if they should talk in the most meekest volume as if they were trying to impersonate the voice of  an infant.  They would usually respond with, "No, I'm not" in a whispering voice, followed by a shrug as if someone had just forced them to gulp down a glass of pure lime juice without any sugar.  The other way, I guess, would be how the more liberated Vietnamese female would respond.  And that is, upon receiving, they would give them a mean look immediately to make sure that the man realizes that what he just said was beyond deplorable.  And if he knew what was good for him, he should never even think of saying that to another Vietnamese girl, or he just might end with a few bullets through his window sometime soon.  I realize I might be in the minority, but I really don't care much for either of the two ways I've seen Vietnamese girls respond whenever they've been paid a compliment on their beauty.  I was really impressed with Ngoc Lan's response to that man.  She looked up at him with a friendly smile, and said, "Thank you.  I'm very flattered."  I could tell that she wasn't interested in him, yet she remained pleasant and kept her composure. Like any man who was already smitten, he proceeded anyway to ask if she would be busy this coming weekend.  Ngoc Lan smiled again at him, and answered, "I'll be out of town this weekend."  He asked again about the following weekend, and she responded with the same answer.  Before he was about to ask about the weekend after that, Ngoc Lan replied with, "I'm actually going to be out of town every weekend for the rest of this year and all the way until March of next year I'll then have a weekend off."  The man thought she was joking.  But she really wasn't since she did have a booking each week for the rest of the year to do one night shows all around the world.  As she said her goodbye to him, she briefly explained why her weekends were all booked by disclosing her profession.  Ngoc Lan's reason for the explanation was so that he would not think she was blowing him off in a rude manner.  She also told him that she was not interested because she already was in a relationship, and thanked him again as she said goodbye.  I thought that was really classy.  Now, why can't other Vietnamese girls carry themselves like Ngoc Lan?  Maybe, that's why she is Ngoc Lan. 

Ngoc Lan had managed to reach to the very top in her profession.  She was a celebrity.  Unlike most other professions, a singer that is successful in his or her career is synonymous with a singer that has become famous.  Ngoc Lan was well aware of that.  In her own words, she once taught me how "fame is like a double-edged sword and should always be something that a singer should always try to maintain with the most caution."  I must say, she definitely knew exactly what she was talking about. 

Ngoc Lan and the real man in her life, her husband, Kelvin Khoa, at their wedding.

Most people who knew Ngoc Lan personally will agree with me when I say that she was one very candid individual.  Rather than resort to similar habits and activities partaken by most other singers, Ngoc Lan was rather reserved and had better things to do.  Never would anyone find Ngoc Lan carousing around late at night at bars and parties.  In fact, the only times Ngoc Lan could ever be seen at any nightclub was when she was there to fulfill a singing engagement.  Now that I think about it, even if she had wanted to hang out at bars like how many of her colleagues frequently do, she wouldn't be able to even find the time to hang out because of her extremely busy non-stop work schedule.  Despite the precautions Ngoc Lan had taken in order to avoid becoming a target of gossip or scandal that the public seems highly capable to start as quickly as circulate, her celebrity status was also not immune to falling victim to the vicious rumor mills.  I guess the same applies with celebrities of all different cultures.  The public just loves to gossip about famous people, and rumors do spread around quickly.  Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but when it comes to comparing how fast rumors can spread around among different cultures, the Vietnamese mouth more than likely would take the cake in that marathon. 

Like most other singers who pair up with another singer of the opposite sex as a duet, rumors of Ngoc Lan having dating Duy Quang, as well as Duc Huy, Trung Hanh, Jo Marcel, Elvis PhuongTuan Ngoc, and Trinh Nam Son were in full circulation within the Vietnamese gossip mills.  There were even rumors of Tuan Anh and her.

I remember how she would just laugh at how ridiculous these rumors were.  As a matter of fact, besides Thanh Lam whom she had dated over ten years ago before she would meet one other fellow that she would become romantically involved with.  It was a fellow by the name of Kelvin Khoa, whom she ended up marrying.  Since I had become friends with Ngoc Lan and really had gotten to know her, I must say, that there are such singers out there who simply are nice and proper.  Not every singer lives his or her life filled with scandal after scandal.  From what I know, Ngoc Lan was a talented, beautiful singer with a lot of class and was always a lady.

As for the rumors about herself that had been well circulated among Vietnamese rumor mills in all four corners of the world , Ngoc Lan pretty much took them with a good attitude.  That was when she started borrowing a phrase I often said, "That's Vietnamese people for you.  You just gotta love them."