Nguyen Qui Duc
There’s the trademark dimple, a coy, sometimes mischievous smile, a look of innocence and an expression of wonder in the eyes. Mai Khoi’s face hasn’t changed much since I first met her some fifteen years ago.
She’d just released her first CD. Love, losses and a fragile heart were the obligatory things she and countless other lounge singers in Ho Chi Minh City gave to their fans in search of clichés and other familiar tunes. Over the years, Mai Khoi gained a good measure of popularity, and for a while became more daring: the Lady Gaga look, the pink hair, the bra-less stage appearances, the sexy and provocative stage persona.
But her statements have now changed. In a recent concert in Hanoi, her adoptive city, the provocative outfits had been discarded, replaced by a traditional Vietnamese tunic. But she wears it with punk-era boots. It’s now the words in her songs that are provocative:
Let’s speak our voice
Step out from the fear
Step out from the silence
Speak the voice from our hearts
An awareness that erases all doubts
Step out of our exile
We have the rights to step out from ignorance
After the years of silence
Let’s speak our voice
Our strength … raise our voice, speak, sing, scream
Even as someone oppresses us
We still raise our voice.
Police raid Mai Khoi and The Dissidents' show on July 22, 2017
On Saturday July 22 my band Mai Khoi and The Dissidents performed at Phu Sa Lab studio (the only venue that still invites me to perform) in Hanoi. The previous day, studio owner Nguyen Nhat Ly, was forced to report to the police of Quang An Ward, Ho Tay District. They told him that he was required by law to request permission to organise any performance at least five days in advance and they threatened to shut our show down and fine him if he refused to cancel it. He replied that the show was being organized in a private space and tickets were not being sold, and as such no permission was required. We went ahead with the show and toward the end 30 police and cultural inspectors raided the studio. The police requested to talk to both the owner of the studio and the building. During this interaction they informed Nguyen Nhat Ly that they had permission to inspect all cultural activities in Tay Ho District of Hanoi. A lawyer present checked the documents the police brought with them and noted several inconsistencies in addition to the fact that they did not have a warrant to inspect the premises, only a general plan to inspect cultural activities in Tay Ho. The police informed Nguyen Nhat Ly and the building owner to report back for another meeting on Monday July 24. Nhat Ly attended the meeting this afternoon at 2 p.m. and was fined for organizing a performance without notifying the authorities in advance.
In other developments, on Saturday before the concert a police officer from Quang An Ward of West Lake called me to request I come and pick up my residential registration that allows me to reside in Hanoi. Today I met with him and he told me that the papers were not ready yet as his boss, who was awaiting the results of a personal history from police in my hometown of Cam Ranh, had yet to sign off on them. Shortly after leaving the police station, an employee of Toan Tien Co (https://web.facebook.com/toantienco.hanoi/), the company who leases my apartment to me, informed me that the police had contacted the company to request they cut my rental contract and make me leave my house. A few days later I was forced out of my house.
Video of the raid
Radio Free Asia report about the raid
Channel News Asia report in which I am interviewed while moving house