Asian pop popular

August 16, 2007

Asian pop popular

Shows a hit with Vietnamese community

By Gerald M. Gay

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.16.2007

The first few notes into the Ocean Band’s opening set at Casino del Sol’s “Asian Spectacular” last May and you knew you were in for an interesting evening.

Amid flashing strobe lights, the Vietnamese quintet ripped through instrumentals of the themes to “Mission: Impossible,” James Bond and rock band Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in a retro medley of guitars, drums and electric keyboards.

The spectacle kicked off more than three hours of Vietnamese music, dancing, comedy and even a fashion show, in a series of stage performances akin to “The Ed Sullivan Show” or Univision’s Spanish-language series “Sabado Gigante.”

It was the fourth and largest Vietnamese-themed concert at the venue since January 2006, three with no admission price in the casino’s 21-and-older bingo hall and its “Asian Spectacular,” held in the spacious, 5,000-seat Anselmo Valencia Amphitheater at 25 bucks a head. The casino will hold another free bingo hall show Aug. 25.

May’s AVA concert brought in a wide swath of Southern Arizona’s growing Vietnamese community, from gray-haired grandmas to grade-school children, more than 1,500 in all.

Some came to see international superstar acts — a number of them flown in from Vietnam to perform for the Tucson event — including heartthrob vocalist Quang Dung and pop princess singer Minh Tuyet.

Anna Pham, a bubbly 24-year-old nail technician from the Northwest Side, and her sister Mary Pham, 27, have attended all of Casino del Sol’s Vietnamese-themed concerts.

“It seems that here in Tucson the Vietnamese community rarely gets together,” Anna said. “I hang out with my sisters and talk about what’s going on in our lives (at these concerts). It is the only time you have time to meet up with anyone.”

Roy Corby, Casino del Sol’s operating officer, is the brains behind the concert series. He kicked things off with a Lunar New Year celebration in 2006 after noticing that Arizona’s casinos were paying scant attention to the state’s growing Asian population.

Corby figured the concerts would be a good draw to the gaming side of the casino’s operations.

“I’ve been in the casino business 19 years and knew that this group had the greatest propensity of any group to gamble in the world,” he said. “We started out over Chinese New Year, but our show took on a more Vietnamese flair because that is who our audience was.”

To arrange these concerts, Corby went through casinos that had some experience with these kinds of events, including the Paradise Casino in Yuma and the Sandia Resort and Casino in Albuquerque. Corby eventually hooked up with V. Entertainment, a Houston-based company that specializes in producing Vietnamese concerts across the United States.

Robert Pham, V. Entertainment’s general manager, said the company puts together about 30 concerts a year and has produced shows, along with its sister company Far East Entertainment, for the Vietnamese-American community for more than two decades.

Pham said his company’s research into whether Tucson’s Vietnamese community was large enough to support such shows estimated the city’s numbers at about 6,000. The U.S. Census Bureau put it closer to 2,200 in 2005, a number that didn’t include groups such as students living in college dormitories.

V. Entertainment then reached out to residents through direct mailings, magazine ads and fliers posted at local supermarkets, restaurants and other Vietnamese-owned businesses.

“There aren’t many options for Vietnamese people in the state of Arizona,” Pham said. “People don’t know where to go to enjoy good Vietnamese music live. Until now, they either had to travel to California or they had to settle for videotapes. We have given them a place.”

Anna and Mary Pham, who came to Tucson from Vietnam with their family 16 years ago, are avid fans of Vietnamese music.

Both women boast large Vietnamese CD collections, with more than 200 titles between them. It’s not unusual to hear such pop music blaring through their home from the time they arrive from work to the time they go to sleep.

Anna said she gets some of her titles from Web sites. The rest come from Hue Video, Tucson’s primary source for Vietnamese music and film.

Run by Phat Tran, 27, and his father, Hoai Tran, Hue is a walk-in closet of a store located in the corner of a strip mall at East Grant Road and North Tucson Boulevard.

The intimate little shop, which opened its doors in 1994, deals primarily in videos, mostly Vietnamese music videos and Chinese films dubbed into Vietnamese. The Trans also carry a healthy selection of Vietnamese CD titles.

Customers pick their poison by looking at CD, video cassette and DVD covers in giant white catalogs. Once they know what they want, the items are retrieved from the piles of videos and music found behind the counter.

CDs will run you about $10. DVDs can cost as much as $24.

Phat said the store gets brisk business, between 15 and 30 customers a day. The Trans order most of the music from Westminster, Calif., an area near Los Angeles dubbed “Little Saigon” for its abundance of Vietnamese businesses and corporations.

Many of the industry’s leading Vietnamese music labels are run out of Westminster, including Thuy Nga Inc., producers of the immensely popular “Paris by Night” cabaret series.

“The people who come in here want to relax,” Phat said. “Most of us work seven days a week. This is something to pop in at night and listen to, or whatever. We get a lot more older people. Younger people tend to listen to American music. A lot of Vietnamese music is slow, written in a sad tone or with sad lyrics.”

Casino del Sol’s upcoming concert will no doubt attract fans of Hue Video, as well as residents from Phoenix, a city that boasts a much larger Vietnamese population (more than 3,700 according to a 2005 Census Bureau community survey).

Mai Luc, a 30-year-old University of Arizona graduate who now lives in Mesa, will be there, though her role will be as an entertainer.

Luc was born and raised in Tucson and will open the concert by performing a series Tahitian hula dances.

The performer was brought up to understand and respect her culture. Her parents immigrated to America during the war and raised her speaking Vietnamese at home. In college, she was the president of the Vietnamese Student’s Association and she’s now in her third term as treasurer of Phoenix’s Vietnamese Community in Arizona group.

Luc has learned to love Vietnamese music.

“My parents would turn it on every so often when I was growing up, and I hated it,” said the performer, who was more interested in Madonna and the Backstreet Boys as a young girl. “I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the music now that I’m older. I actually own Vietnamese CDs now. I’ve noticed that a lot of the performers are very down to earth.”

Luc said these concerts should not be looked at as just a source for good fun, but a place where today’s young Vietnamese-Americans can embrace their cultural heritage.

“This gives a greater venue for people who want to know about Vietnam,” Luc said. “You don’t have to know the language to appreciate the music. And it’s free. The younger generation can’t afford $30-$40 for concert tickets for artists they may not be as familiar with. This gives them a great appreciation for their culture.”

As far as the concerts, Corby says these events will go on as long as he is the casino’s operating officer. The bingo hall shows are always packed, and many of the patrons gamble afterward. He considers the series a rousing success.

“We always have fun when we go to these events,” Mary Pham said. “If there are others planned, we will go for sure.”