Bob Dylan makes debut in Vietnam


HO CHI MINH CITY – Legendary American musician Bob Dylan, whose songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam war movement, played a symbolic first-ever concert in the communist country on Sunday. A hero for the West’s ageing “counter-culture” generation, Dylan and his protest songs are less well-known among the young population of the communist nation, who have no memory of the years of war with the United States.
But that didn’t stop a number of young Vietnamese, as well as foreigners, from turning out for the gig in Ho Chi Minh City and cheering for Dylan, who made no comment on Vietnam or the significance of his appearance there. “We all really enjoyed it,” said a 29-year-old banker, who gave his name as Quan, as he and his friends left the concert in the former Saigon, Vietnam’s largest and most westernised city.
As was the case in Beijing, where Dylan also made his debut on Wednesday, he 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”.After reportedly banning a concert by Dylan last year, Beijing agreed he could perform if his songs were vetted by censors.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong 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. Dylan’s voice sounded on good form as he performed, dressed in a white hat, black suit and pink shirt, ending the set with an encore that included “Like a Rolling Stone”.
One concert-goer, 37-year-old Hoang Quoc Tuan, described himself as a “big fan” of Dylan, having listened to him when he was studying in the UK. “He was an inspiration to Trinh Cong Son,” said 20-year-old female student Tru Hong Ngoc, referring to the singer known as Vietnam’s Bob Dylan when he sang about peace at the height of the war.
Son died ten years ago this month in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnamese singers opened Dylan’s concert by performing some of Son’s love songs. The landmark gig by Dylan forms part of his Asia-Pacific tour marking 50 years since his first major performance on April 11, 1961.
Organisers estimated a turnout of 5-6000 at the open-air concert after a number of late sales, with a mixed crowd of locals and foreigners. 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.