In an example of cruel irony, October 20 is when we celebrate annual Vietnam Women’s Day, and also the anniversary of the passing of Mai Nga (commonly known as Nga Nhi), the lead singer of Go Lim – a Hanoi-based female post-punk band that, albeit short-lived, struck a blow for women’s representation in rock and metal music in Vietnam in 2011 and 2012.
It was only until a few days after Nga Nhi’s death in 2012 that I first started listening to Go Lim’s music, despite having been a fan of the underground rock and metal music scene for quite awhile. Every rock concert I went to at the time consisted of crowds of men in black band T-shirts headbanging to similarly attired and gendered musicians.
My first impression of Go Lim was on a YouTube thumbnail showing Nga Nhi in a pink tee on the stage of CAMA (Club for the Appreciation of Music and Art) Festival. It immediately disrupted my visual perception of the genre. I wish I had a more interesting story to tell about the first Go Lim song I ever heard, but I’m sure it was the one that comes up first in Youtube’s algorithm-driven search results, their most popular, ‘Cac Ban Dung Nghiem’. The song takes the perspective of a giám thị (school supervisor), throwing orders at students to make them stay in line, not to move, and not to laugh.
‘Cac Ban Dung Nghiem’ is a song at conflict with itself. The funky bassline, heavy guitar riffs, and drums instruct you to dance, while Nga’s scream instructs you not to. The song struck a chord with any Vietnamese person who ever attended public school and likely had their own giám thị encounter. Its playful proposition produced laughter, which was at the heart of Go Lim’s subversive power.
Read the complete article on Saigoneer.
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