Bob Dylan set for Vietnam debut


HO CHI MINH CITY – Legendary American musician Bob Dylan, whose songs became anthems of the 1960s anti-Vietnam War movement, was set to make his debut in the communist nation on Sunday.
The concert may be symbolic for the West’s ageing “counter-culture” generation, but many in youthful Vietnam have never heard of the man who wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and other songs of protest and struggle.
About half of Vietnam’s 86 million-strong population is aged under 30, with no memory of the years of war with the United States.
“They don’t have any political connection with the era in which Bob Dylan became famous,” said Chuck Searcy, a Vietnam War veteran who has lived in the country since 1995.
The gig in southern Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest and most westernised hub, was nevertheless eagerly anticipated and expected to be “held very successfully,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga.
It forms part of the musician’s Asia-Pacific tour marking 50 years since his first major performance on April 11, 1961.
He heads to Vietnam from Shanghai, where he performed on Friday night after his debut China gig in Beijing on Wednesday.
After reportedly banning a concert by Dylan last year, Beijing agreed he could perform if his songs were vetted by censors.
Nga could not say whether Dylan’s songs would have to be checked by Vietnamese authorities, but a review by censors would be normal procedure.
Washington and the European Union this week expressed concern over human rights and free expression in Vietnam after a high-profile dissident was jailed for anti-state propaganda activities.
In Beijing, also criticised by activists and Western governments over rights, Dylan did not play two politically-charged songs that are among his most well-known: “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
Brad Adams, an executive director at Human Rights Watch, accused Dylan of allowing censors to choose his playlist.
“Dylan should be ashamed of himself,” he said.
Since poverty-stricken and isolated Vietnam began to embrace the free market 25 years ago it has developed rapidly and become increasingly integrated with the rest of the world.
Searcy saw Dylan’s visit as part of this process, significant for the Vietnamese because he is a major international artist, not because he is associated with the anti-war movement.
His concert comes after two much-hyped shows by 90s boy band Backstreet Boys, who reportedly drew about 30,000 fans last month.