BY RIGHTS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ONE of the proudest moments in a musical career spanning more than forty years.
After working happily, but in relative obscurity, for decades as a cover band entertaining the Vietnamese diaspora in Houston, Texas, the last thing Con Ba Cuc (aka the CBC Band) expected was to be brought to the attention of hipped-up music collectors around the globe.
That was until Mark Gergis tracked the band down to ask permission for two long- forgotten tracks of theirs to be used on an account of Saigon’s pre-1975 rock and roll scene he was in the process of compiling for the US-based world music specialists Sublime Frequencies.
Yet, despite receiving their mysterious champion warmly, the group Rolling Stone magazine hailed as the ‘best band in the orient’ back in 1970 seemed perplexed by the renewed interest in their oeuvre. “We came in with the recordings and they hadn’t heard them since 1970,” recalls Gergis. “They weren’t all that impressed either. They were like, ‘it sounds terrible. Do you want us to re-record it for you?’”
Such an attitude will not come as much of a surprise to those with a handle on Vietnam’s music culture. In the west, the efforts of archivists and specialist labels, not to mention extensive back catalogue reissues, have allowed generation after generation easy access to everything from scratchy blues made in slavery days by wizened old blokes in the Mississippi Delta to three chord potboilers recorded in a garage by a bunch of spotty kids.